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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)

Sampson  Tree



HENRY SNELL. Some of our descent from the Snells of Chawleigh is conjecture, based on the most likely reading of the available evidence. We can, however, be certain who Henry’s father was. In the floor of the church of St James in Chawleigh there is a grave slab. A transcription of the memorial says the first name on it is Ricardus Snell. This is followed by an inscription to “Henricus Snell ejusdem filius” (Henry Snell his son).

Henry’s father was a well-to-parishioner. His inscription describes him as benefactor of the church. Henry probably grew up on the farm of a prosperous yeoman. Properties known to be held by the Snells in the 16th century suggest that the farm was in the area south of the village of Chawleigh.

Richard died in 1540. We have no information about the date of Henry’s birth. His father was not assessed for tax in the 1525-7 Lay Subsidy Roll, possibly being too young or still part of his father’s household. Henry was a taxpayer in 1544. His most likely birth date is in the 1520s, halfway through the reign of Henry VIII.

He may still have been a boy when the English Reformation of 1534 saw Henry VIII break with Roman Catholicism and take over the Church of England, in order to divorce Catharine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.


Also on the 1544 Roll for Chawleigh is Joan Snell, widow. She is probably Henry’s mother, but might be his grandmother.

We know from his will that Henry had a sister Joan. There is no information about any other brothers or sisters.


In 1544 both Joan senior and Henry are rated at £20. They, with one other, are the highest rated parishioners for goods. There are, in addition, /two residents of “Challegh” assessed at £2 for land. Henry was probably still a young man, with a considerable inheritance from his father.

He was a wealthy man . He appears in one record as a tanner, but it is clear from his extensive land holdings that he was also a prosperous yeoman farmer. He probably owned a tanning business, rather than working at it himself. He may well have lived in the Old Hall at Chawleigh, which dates from the early-mid 16th century, or in a house of similar standing.

Old Hall, Chawleigh[1]


We have no information about whom Henry married. The parish register for Chawleigh do not go back sufficiently far. His son Anthony appears to have named two of his daughters Grace, one from each of his marriages. It is possible that this was his mother’s name. The absence of a mention of her in his will indicates that she died before Dec 1591.


We know from his will that Henry had more than 14 children, though he does not name most of them. His eldest son and heir seems to be John Snell the elder, but he predeceased his father in 1585. This left Anthony apparently as the second son and the only one named in Henry’s will.


Henry appears again in the 1569 Muster Roll for “Challey”. He is the first named of five presenters. He is not listed among those who have to bear arms, so we may assume that he was then above the maximum fighting age of 60 or was unfit to bear arms.

What is surprising is that he is not listed amongst those sufficiently affluent to be required to provide extra arms and armour. In both 1544 and 1581 he is the highest rated taxpayer in Chawleigh. We should certainly expect him to fall into this category, but only his son Anthony does. There may be a transcription error here.

The younger Snells bearing arms are Anthony Snell, archer, Robert Snell, harquebusier, and John Snell, pikeman. These would appear to be Henry’s older sons.


On 21 Feb 1574 a grant was made by “Henry Snell of Challeigh, tanner, to his favourite son William, of messuages, lands etc in Challeigh and Aishrafe (Rose Ash), which he had by fine levied by Anthony Cokested, gentleman, in Easter Term 5 E 1 (1551) and assured to him by Anthony by a fine levied in Hillary Term 8 Eliz (1566). And of messuages, lands etc in Southmolton of which Henry is seised by conveyance; and all his other laneds, tenements, pastures, rentes etc in the above parishes or elsewhere in Devon.” Enrolled 24 Feb 1574.[2]

This is rare information about Henry’s occupation other than that of yeoman farmer.


We find Henry again in the 1581 Lay Subsidy Roll for Chawleigh. Three Snells are listed in a community of 21 taxpayers. Henry’s assessment is easily the highest at G10.  Anthony, G6, and John, G5, are his oldest sons. It reinforces the picture of the Snells as an affluent family.


Henry’s son John died before him. Olive Moger gives the abstract of the will of John Snell the elder of Challeighe. It is dated 22 July 1585. At least two of John’s sons had not reached the age of majority.

He is to be buried in the church of Chawleigh and the poor of the parish are to be given a peck of rye.

His daughter Emblyn and her husband John Dable get John’s estate in a tenement in Eastweek in Chulmleigh, and in a wood called The Coppice in East Week, lying on the east of the tenement called Cynlygh [?Bynlygh].

There are monetary bequests to his daughter An and to his son Thomas, when he reaches 7 years of age. His wife Mary gets the goods she brought to the marriage and the corn growing in Eastweek. He makes his son John his executor.

The overseers of the will are Thomas Radford and John’s brother Anthony Snell.

The inventory was taken on 27 July 1585 by three men, including Anthony Snell. The total value of goods was £86.6.4.

On 22 Sept 1585 administration of John’s estate was granted to Henry Snell, during the minority of his grandson John Snell the younger. The same day, a bond of £200 was taken out of the estate by Henry Snell of Chawleigh and Sebastian Penicott of Chulmleigh, husbandman.

John Snell the younger may be “John of Nutson” or “John of Nethercot”, mentioned in other documents.

This John had a sister named Em or Eme, who married George Mortimer alias Tanner.[3]


Henrie Snell of Chawleigh, yeoman, made his own will on 26 Feb 1590. His gravestone says he died on 10 Dec 1591. However, Olive Moger gives the inventory of his goods as taken on 9 Dec 1590.

He asked to be buried in Chawleigh church and left money for the poor of Chawleigh and neighbouring Chumleigh.

One of the startling facts to emerge from the will and inventory is that the sum of the bequests to his descendants show him to have 14 children, receiving 6/8d each, and 40 grandchildren, receiving 3/4d. These numbers presumably do not include others who had died. Few of these descendants are named.

His sister Joan receives “a half hundred of the best wool”. There are legacies to all his servants.

The account of his goods shows that he left £20 to John, son of William Snell, and £4 to Anne daughter of John Snell, deceased. The latter is probably the John who died in 1585. William Snell was presumably the “favourite son” who received a grant from Henry in 1574,

There were also bequests totalling 30/- to his godchildren. At 12d each, there must have been 30 of them.

His son Anthony is one of three executors. The executors’ account shows them to have distributed £270.12.0.

The inventory shows that he left apparel worth 40/-, furniture, implements and “cattle”. The word “cattle” could include any farm beast. He had sheep on his tenements of Adgworthy and Doccanby, rye at Totworthie, and rye and wheat at Mylson. Clearly he owned or rented extensive farmland.

The money in his chest amounted to £6.18.9.

One of the beneficiaries is Margery Levidon. Perhaps she is a daughter and had a son Henry Leveton of Dolton, bur. 1616, who had a daughter named Margery, baptised 1615.[4]

As part of the administration of his estate, there is a bond of £500 taken out by Anthony Snell of Chawleigh, yeoman, Sebastian Pennacott of Chulmleigh, yeoman, and Robert Berde of Chulmleigh.

The inventory was witnessed by four men, including William Snell and John Snell. William may be his favourite son, and perhaps John his grandson.

He also left a legacy to Downe’s son of Barnstaple. This may be a son-in-law, since it seems that the legacies are all to relatives.[5]

The overall picture is that Henry Snell, as well as owning a tanneyr, was a wealthy farmer.


Henry’s executors paid 6/8d for him to be buried inside the church of St James’s, Chawleigh, as he requested in his will. He shared a grave with his father Richard, and probably his eldest son John. Under the memorial to Richard, benefactor of the church, the inscription reads:

Hic jacet Henricus Snell ejusdem filius mortuus est xo Dec 1591

“Here lies Henry Snell his son who died 10 Dec 1591.”

Despite this date, no entry has been found for him in the Chawleigh burial register.


Beneath it is said to be an illegible inscription which includes the name John Snell. This may be John the elder, who seems to have been Henry’s eldest  son. He died in 1585 and his will desired that he, too, be buried in Chawleigh church.

Unfortunately, their grave slab can no longer be seen. The floor is now covered by Victorian tiles and modern carpeting, which extends up both aisles and the choir. There are still a few inscribed stones in the side chapel, but the Snell stone is not among them.


Henry’s sister Joan was buried four years after him on 14 March 1595 in Barnstaple. Her will (transcribed by Moger) states that she is a widow and that she leaves all her goods to her daughter Margaret Yeo. Witnesses include William Snell the elder of Chaleygh (Chawleigh) and Anthony Snell makes his mark. William and Anthony were Henry’s sons.


A file deposited by the Snell family in the DCRS collection at the Westcountry Studies Library gives further information about Henry’s family. This describes his son William as William Snell of Fremington and Chawleigh, gent. This is the first time we have heard the Snells referred to as gentlemen. Fremington is on the mouth of the river Taw near Barnstaple, 18 miles from Chawleigh.

William Snell married Margaret Stambery on 11 April 1570 in East Downe.

In 1581 William Snell of Fremington  was taxed on Goods to the value of £3, a considerably lower figure than his father Henry at £10, and less than his brothers John and Anthony.

.William died in, or shortly before, 1605. On 8 March 1604/5, administration of the estate of William Snell of Challeigh was granted to his daughter Susan Snell. This was not because he had no sons. We know of John Snell of Nethercot and Dr George Snell of Chester.[6]

Susan was one of three people who entered into a bond worth £600 on that day. She married William Titherleigh of  Great Torrington 18 April 1605 in Fremington, shortly after the administration. He is mentioned in the admon. for William Snell in 1604, so it is likely they were betrothed then. Susan, wife of Mr William Titherleigh, was buried 30 Jun 1644 , and Mr William Titherleigh, widower, on 14 Jan 1647.[1] The title ‘Mr’ was only given to gentlemen.

William also had a daughter named Helen who married William Tucker by licence issued 23 Deb 1613. This is evidenced by the PCC will of her unmarried son George in 1649 who names his dear parents William and Elinor Tucker, cozens George Snell goldsmith of London and George the son of my uncle Dr George Snell. We know that George, goldsmith of London, is the son of John of Nethercott.

Dr George Snell became Archdeacon of Chester. The records of Caius College, Cambridge, tell us:

“George Snell, son of William Snell, gentleman, was born at Fremington, in the county of Devon ; attended school at Chumleigh in that county; and on 3ist January, 1599 [1600], when 18 years of age, was admitted scholar at Caius. He graduated B.A. at St. John’s in 1603, and M.A. in 1607. In 1618 he was appointed Archdeacon of Chester, and soon afterwards (probably in 1619) married Lydia, youngest sister of Dr. Bridgman, the Bishop of that diocese. In 1619 he was presented to the living of Wallasey, and in 1620 went to Scotland and received the degree of D.D. from the University of St. Andrews. In 1621 he obtained a Canonry in Chester Cathedral, and in the same year took an ad eundem D.D. degree at Oxford. In 1622 he got the living of Great Smeaton. In 1631 he escaped a fine for refusing knighthood (his estate being such as to justify the King in offering him that rank), by the plea that he was in holy orders, and in the same year he obtained a dispensation from Archbishop Abbot which permitted him to hold the Rectory of Waverton as well as that of Wallasey. In 1632 he resigned his Canonry in favour of a kinsman of his wife. In 1635 he was appointed Rural Dean of the Deaneries of Chester, Frodsham, Malpas, Middlewich, and Nantwich, and he also became Rural Dean of the Deanery of Bangor. He appears to have held all his preferments until 1646, when he was ejected and his estates seized by the Parliament. He lived on in greatly reduced circumstances till 1656, when he was buried (6th February) in St. Mary’s, Chester. His wife survived till 1670. Her will, dated and proved that year, bears a seal in red wax, a cross fleury, the same arms as those of John Snell.” [7]

This shows that the Snells’ world was not confined to small Devon villages.

The list of William Snell’s possessions includes 3 kine at Fremington, one calf at Fremington and goods at Fremington. He had a lease for years of a tenement in Fremington worth £30. He also had a Bible and one Latin book.

The inventory of William’s goods was dated 24 Feb 1604/5. It was compiled by 5 men, including Anthony Snell and John Snell. Anthony was his brother. John may be his nephew. The total value was £268.18.4.

William and Margaret died within days of each other in 1604/05 and were buried in Chawleigh on 21 Feb and 23 Feb. Plague struck Barnstaple in 1604, and it a real possibility that William and Margaret died from it.


[1] Zoopla. https://lid.zoocdn.com/u/1600/1200/7db729315221c739e8af0f30a6d5c748c4fd440c.jpg
[2]Marlene Williamson.
[3] Marlene Williamson.
[4] Marlene Williamson
[5] Marlene Williamson
[6] Marlene Williamson
[7]Founder, Foundation,  Foundationers”,  publ. James Maclehose and Sons, Glasgow. 1901.




Sampson Tree