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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



JOHN SAMPSON came from an established Winkleigh family, going back at least to the start of the 18th century. There were two John Sampsons born there within a few years of each other. The first was John, son of Richard Sampson and Susanna Brook, baptised 22 April 1717. The second was John, son of Edward Sampson and Hester Stevens, baptised 10 March 1723(4). Our John named his first son Richard, and the names John and Richard occur repeatedly down the generations, but there is no evidence of descendants named Edward or Hester. It is thus almost certain that he is Richard and Susanna’s son.

He was the second of three known children, with an older and a younger sister. His eldest son Richard became a day labourer, so it is likely that John began work at this lower end of the economic scale. This was the century when the old manorial system was declining, replaced by landowners on estates, tenant-farmers on farms, and wage-labourers in cottages. A few yeomen farmers survived as owner-occupiers, but it is unlikely John was one of these.

His marriage, outside Winkleigh, has not yet been found.


SARAH. We do not yet know which parish Sarah came from. She married John in or before 1746, but the wedding has not been found in any of the surrounding parishes. The marriage registers for the little villages of Bondleigh and Honeychurch do not go back that far, so one of these may have been her home, or John may have gone farther afield to find his bride.

They then set up home in John’s parish of Winkleigh.

The couple had four children baptised there. (DCRS transcripts)

Baptisms. Winkleigh.
1746  Sampson, Ricd, son of John & Sarah, 20 Oct
1749  Sampson, John s of John & Sarah, 17 April
1751  Sampson, Elizabeth d of John & Sarah, 26 Nov
1754  Sampson, Sarah d of John & Sarah, 27 Nov

Without a wedding date, we do not know how long afterwards Richard was born. It was not at all unusual for a bride to be pregnant at the altar. But couples who did not arrange a marriage early enough risked public humiliation. Winkleigh’s parish records show that in 1744, John Lake and his wife Elizabeth and James and Elizabeth Hammett did penances for ‘pre-nuptial fornication’. They had to wear a white sheet and confess their sin in church. Their sins were presumably discovered when a child was born less than nine months after their marriages.[1]

John and Sarah were apparently still alive in 1765, since their son Richard is said to have lived with them until he was 19.[2]

In the 18th century it became customary for farm workers to receive part of their wages (often up to a fifth) in cider. Typically workers were paid 3-4 pints a day, rising to 6-8 pints a day during hay-making.  In 1763 the tax on cider was raised from 2s 6d per hogshead (54 gallons) to 6s.6d. The farm workers of Winkleigh were doubtless part of the storm of protest which followed. There was much rejoicing when the increase was repealed in 1766.[3]

In 1769 Mary Dart was apprenticed to John Sampson in Winkleigh.[4] Since our John was the grandson of a day labourer and the father of one, this may be a younger John Sampson, husband of Ann, who had children baptised in Winkleigh in the 1770s and 80s. But John and Sarah’s son Richard ended his life as a yeoman farmer after a humble start, so it is possible that John too eventually became of sufficient standing to take on an apprentice. Children apprenticed by the Overseers of the Poor were usually assigned to husbandry or housework. Mary may have assisted Sarah, who would by now have been middle-aged, while Sarah taught the girl how to look after a household.

It was as well that Sarah and John’s family was complete by then. In those days, smallpox was then a terrible disease, and most of the victims were infants. In 1761, between 22 June  and 3 September, 13 infants died of smallpox in Winkleigh. In 1776 an epidemic of measles (or possibly smallpox again) swept through the parish, killing no less than 19 children in three months from March to June. The years 1778, 1782, and 1783 were also smallpox years. A further epidemic killed 12 youngsters of the parish in the spring of 1796, the very year that Jenner’s first experiments in a vaccine from cowpox were successful.[5]

If the identification of their burials is correct, the couple seem to have survived these epidemics and lived to a ripe old age, seeing in the new century. There is a burial for Sarah Sampson in Winkleigh in 1800. This is 46 years after the birth of her youngest child.

Burial. Winkleigh. (DCRS transcript)
1800  Sampson, Sarah  6 Oct

John survived her by four years.
1804  Sampson, John, senr.  29 April.

He was 87.


[1] Winkleigh: A View of their Parish by the People of Winkleigh, ed. Lesley McLean (Beaford Arts Centre, 1997).
[2] Settlement Certificate: Richard Sampson, 1790, Chulmleigh Overseers of the Poor, DRO.
[3] McLean.
[4] www.a2a.org.uk. 2989 A/PO 470.
[5] McLean.




Sampson Tree