The Backlers of Dedham


I came across a will extract from Genealogical Gleanings in England on Ancestry.  I knew of Richard Backler (1572-1639), but was not able to find any family links of consequence.  The contents of his will add much more information.  He was a wealthy clothier, involved in the East Anglian cloth trade and he was able to provide for his whole family in his will.

Dedham is a beautiful Essex village on the River Stour, which forms the border between Essex and Suffolk.  Today the area is referred to as Constable Country after the famous English painter, who created many of his stunning landscapes from the natural scenery in the area.  Dedham was also one of the many towns and villages participating in the wool and cloth trade along the Stour that gave easy access to the Flemish markets in Bruges, Ghent and Ypres.

Before the Hundred Years war, East Anglia provided wool to the Flemish markets and skilled tradesmen then turned it into cloth.  The Hundred Years war created instability and many Flemings moved to East Anglia and gradually the wool trade turned into cloth manufacture as these skills were imported into the region.  Richard Backler appears to have been one of the people who was able to profit from this change in fortunes.

The pictures on this page were taken at the end of July 2016 when I visited Dedham.  These two photos show the church from the direction of Royal Square and then, rather interestingly, a Dutch style barn in the distance towards the Craft Centre, which may indicate connections to near Europe and beyond:

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Richard married Anne Sherman (1588-1639) on 13th May 1610.  She was the daughter of Edmund Sherman (1548-1600) and his second wife Ann Cleare (1566-1609), whom he married in 1584.  His first wife was Ann Pellatte (1548-1584), whom he married in 1570.  There is much confusion in various family trees on Ancestry, between these two Anna’s and I have tried to go back to the source documents to be as sure as possible of my facts.  According to the will above, Anne Sherman had at least two brothers: John and Samuel Sherman.  Members of the Sherman family emigrated to the USA and were some of the founders of Dedham, Massachusetts.  There is also an ancestral link to the famous American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman from these emigrants.

I have found references that suggest Richard’s parents were both born in 1550 and married in 1573.  Richard Backler senior appears to have passed away in 1617, the date of his will.  According to his will his wife was Joan and his son was Richard.  Other sources suggest her surname was Upcher, but nothing further is known about her.

Richard mentions seven children in his will:  Nathaniel Backler (1616-1680), Anne Backler (born 1619) who married a man called Smith, Joane Backler (born 1620) who married a man called Crosse, Richard Backler (born 1622), Sarah Backler (born 1623), Mary Backler (born 1630) and Elizabeth Backler (born 1636).  There are also references on Ancestry to John Backler (1619-1639), who appears to have died just before the will was written or possibly just fallen out of favour.

Nathaniel appears to have married Martha Rogers (born 1612) in 1637.  A famous Puritan preacher called “Roaring” John Rogers (1570-1636) was very active for a long time in Dedham, being appointed there after a short stint as Vicar of Haverhill from 1603-1605, and it seems that Martha was his daughter.  The second son of “Roaring” John was Nathaniel Rogers, also a Vicar, who was born in Haverhill (1598-1655). Nathaniel emigrated to Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1636 and became pastor there in 1638.  Both John and Nathaniel were educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and, prior to attending University, Nathaniel was educated at Dedham Grammar School.

This picture shows Dedham Grammar School on Royal Square opposite the church:

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The will above also mentions that Richard had two cousins, Elizabeth Backler and Bezaliell Anger.  This Elizabeth is another clue that there were other Backler families in Dedham or its vicinity and she could be the sister of Nathaniel and Samuel mentioned below.  The Anger name (or Ainger in some Ancestry trees), is another that has been linked to the Backler name, with some assuming that Anna Anger (1581-1625) was of Sherman stock and that she married Richard Backler.  I have come across suggestions that Anne Ainger was the wife of John Ainger (1576-1623) and that they had many children between 1598 and 1625.  One of these children was Bezaliell and as Richard is claiming him as a cousin, this would suggest that Anne Ainger was indeed a Sherman.  Some have suggested that her name was Hannah, so in that case it would be possible for her to be Anne Sherman’s sister.

The will also mentions that Richard had a share in a mill, occupied by John Marsh.  There was a large flour mill at Dedham, painted by Constable and a fulling mill too, which was used for improving cloth.  It seems likely that Richard had a share in the fulling mill, given his trade.  This picture shows the scene today where Constable painted The Hay Wain – the only thing missing is the actual hay wain ( a cart), but there is more greenery in the foreground and some trees have grown on the right. Willy Lott’s cottage has had a lick of paint too!   I have seen the original in the National Gallery in London.

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I have also come across references to Nathaniel Backler (born 1590), who married Ruth Cofford or Cotsford in 1621.  Nathaniel had a will dated 1645 that mentions his wife Ruth and their daughter Abigail Backler (1627-1705), who married John Blomfield (1623-1697) in 1645.  The 1645 will also mentions another daughter Ruth Backler.

Samuel Backler (1600?-1687), son of Nathaniel and Ruth, was the Vicar of Whatfield who was ejected in 1662 and he left a will dated 1685.  He died in East Bergholt close to Dedham and was appointed to Whatfield in 1649.  The 1685 will mentions his sister Abigail and three deceased sisters.  Their surnames were given as Coolidge, Wood and Smith.  Other sources identify Elizabeth Backler as Wood and Sarah Backler as Smith, so on a process of elimination the third sister Ruth may be Coolidge.    The 1685 will also mentions a brother John Backler and I have nothing further on him at present.  Samuel of Whatfield also makes reference to his cousins, Samuel Backler of Huntingdon and John Backler “living about Haverhill” plus a sister of theirs living in Dedham (possibly Martha Backler).  Samuel and John were also mentioned in their father Samuel Backler‘s will of 1642 that was proved by John in 1652, with power reserved to Samuel.  Property seems to have been left to the sons in an unconventional way and ended up in a Chancery court case, about which I need to conduct further research.  It might explain why the sons ended up living quite a long way apart.  The will of 1642 also mentions a brother, who is probably the Nathaniel mentioned above.

This picture shows The Assembly Rooms where non-conformist preachers performed, in what was an area of growing Puritanical beliefs, where the persecuted began emigrating to the USA:

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Cambridge University records for Christ’s College note that Samuel (of Whatfield fame) was possibly the uncle of Samuel Backler (1662-1720), Vicar of Ashwell (see separate blog page).  With the older Samuel purported to be born in 1600 and the younger Samuel being born in 1662, this large gap may indicate that the uncle may have been another Samuel, who was married in Huntingdon in 1660 and born in 1630, as it is closer to the generational difference expected. This suggests that there could be a familial link between the Backlers of Dedham and the Backlers of Ashwell, London and Haverhill.

This branch of the Backlers may be connected to Haverhill and it could be connected to the Flemish area.  At Haverhill the Stour Brook runs into the River Stour, so there were river connections between the two towns and both were heavily involved in the wool and cloth industries.  I wonder whether I can establish a link to the Backlers in Huntingdon or Haverhill and it may be that further research will yield more connections.