His legacy

I have three big obsessions: sewing fabric bags, tracing my genealogy, and supporting Ethos Pueblo. Lately my genealogy obsession has been primary since I discovered a trove of early English wills on FamilySearch. Many of the testators were helpful when they wrote those wills, explaining exactly who each person is.

Thomas Robinson of Lancaster, merchant, the nephew of my late wife.

My wife Ann Walker’s first husband’s children.

Thank you. From reading these wills, I’ve been able to fill out my tree, correct some errors I made, and even get back one or two more generations on a few branches.

Some of the wills also tell a story, but the story isn’t always clear.

My 5 great grandfather Robert Roskell was a farmer in Overton and then in Cockerham, Lancashire, England, born about 1734. This area, north of Manchester, between Preston and Lancaster, was largely agricultural. The River Lune, flowing southwest from Lancaster, separates Overton and Cockerham with broad sand flats. My ancestors were prosperous farming families, prosperous enough that they left wills.

In 1758, at age 24, Robert married Elizabeth Grey, who was 21. I have identified seven children of this marriage, all baptized at St Helen’s church in Overton, Lancashire. Robert’s wife Elizabeth, or Betty, died at age 51 in 1788. She was buried in the churchyard of St Michael’s church in Cockerham.

Robert outlived his wife by over 15 years and may have felt the challenge of raising his children alone. When Robert’s wife died, their daughter Sarah (my ancestor) was 27 years old and already married with three children of her own, their daughter Betty was 24, I cannot trace their son John who would have been 20, two children had died young, and the two other surviving children were girls, Mary aged 12 and Dorothy aged 9. Robert may have felt responsible for getting Betty married (four years later she did marry) and for raising Mary and Dorothy. Sadly, in 1794 Mary died at age 18. Now the household was just Robert, aged 60, and his youngest daughter, Dorothy, aged 15.

On 16 Feb 1801, when she was 21, Dorothy’s natural son Robert Roskell was baptized at St Michael’s church in Cockerham; no father was named. 

Over a year later, on 28 August 1802, Robert Roskell wrote his will; his daughter Dorothy and her son Robert are his only descendants referred to by name. He directed that the interest from a legacy of twenty pounds be given “unto my Daughter Dorothy towards the bringing up and Maintenance of her son Robert Roskell until he attain to the age of twenty one years …” He wrote that he had given a bond to the parish of Cockerham in the amount of 100 pounds “to indemnify the said Parish against the said Robert Roskell Son of my said Daughter Dorothy ever becoming chargeable to the said Parish.” Next he wrote, “Now it is my Will and Mind and I do direct and order that my said Daughter Dorothy shall from and out of her share of the Money to arise from my Effects indemnify and save harmless my other children and their Issue from all costs charges Damages and Expences that may at any time happen to arise or be made on account of my having given the said Bond.”

Was Dorothy taken advantage of by some man or had she made unwise choices? Was her father showing strong love for her and her child by ensuring their support? or was he acting to protect his other children from having to support them? I think he was probably doing both.

Robert Roskell died less than a year after writing that will and records show that the executors he appointed were duly sworn so probably the terms of his will, including the fund for the maintenance of his grandson, were followed.

Just over a year after her father died, when her son Robert was four years old, Dorothy married Joseph Proctor, a farmer, and they had at least five children. I cannot confidently trace her son Robert.  

A stone in the cemetery at St Michael’s church in Cockerham reads:

Treasured memories of Elizabeth, wife of Robert Roskell, who died February 24th 1788 aged 51 years.

Also Mary, daughter of the above who died November 9th 1794 in the 19th year of her age.

Likewise of Robert, husband and father to the above who died May 21st in the 70th year of his age.

Someone had “treasured memories” of Robert, enough to add these lines about him to the stone.