The Mather family
The Mather family presents the sort of problem that makes genealogy so fascinating: the possibility of ancestors who led interesting lives and might have had an impact on the national (or even international) stage, together with the need to examine the disparate pieces of evidence to present a strong case. Mather is not a common name, so one would think that three Mather families, all living in London in the 18th century, all originally from Northumberland, all with links to shipping and to each other, would be related; but it is proving difficult to establish that! At least two Mathers - both called James - did have interesting careers, with one linked to the early days of Australia and one becoming the fourth mayor of New Orleans in the USA; the question is whether they are relatives.
A Cap with Brussels Lace and Tucker of the same, as Handkerchief with Brussels Lace; an Handkerchief with Mecklin Lace, and double Ruffles of the same: These, with some other things of less value, were wrapped in a blue and white linen handkerchief. Whoever shall bring them to Mr Thomas Mather, in the Flesh-market, or to the Vicarage House in Pont Island, shall have half a Guinea Reward. Half a guinea (52.5p) would now be worth about £200 and, as the Flesh Market was where many of the traders worked, it's possible that the Mathers actually lived in Pont Island (Ponteland), a village seven miles outside Newcastle. Against that, shortly after Thomas' death, a needlework school was opened in the 'very commodious house late occupied by Mr Thomas Mather, at the foot of the Flesh Narket adjoining St Nicolas Churchard'. A few years earlier in 1733, a coachbuilder selling a large house had asked interested buyers to call on him or 'Mr Thomas Mather at the sign of the Half Moon in the Flesh Market, Newcastle'. Newcastle had been expanding rapidly since the 16th century, mainly because of the exporting of coal, and the city was bursting its mediaeval boundaries, but the several markets in the centre still remained the centre of the city's commerce. Newcastle was the third largest city in England after London and Bristol,with an excellent musical life, and had been described by Celia Fiennes in 1698 as a 'noble' city that compared favourably to London. It would have been a good place to live and work. and eldest daughter, Jenny (Jane) remained in Newcastle, but the three other children all moved to London, for reasons that may never be known. Rebecca (Becky) married the Christopher Watson mentioned below and moved to Plymouth; and Thomas, the only male, seems to have joined the navy. He married in Plymouth when Master on HMS Pelican; and then became commander of the ship HMS Pitt. One record suggests the 'Pitt of London' traded across the Atlantic, but it sank in 1765. His will mentioned unnamed 'children', almost definitely two daughters. Fortunately for us the 1767 will also mentioned his mother and sister in Newcastle, Becky in Devon and his two remaining unmarried sisters in London. He named James Mather, merchant of London, as his executor. Who was James, and was he a relation?
James was almost certainly the James Mather described in several online articles as trader, shipowner, slave trader and whaler. His link with Australia was that he bought the ship Endeavour after James Cook's trip and added it to his own fleet. He died in 1796 leaving his sons to continue his business. All the articles say that his origins are unknown, but it seems clear to me that he was born in the North-East of England, but further north than Newcastle. Land records show him in Cross Lane, St Mary Hill, Billingsgate from at least 1765-1771, and the fact that he is sometimes referred to as a 'musician' means that he can be equated with the James Mather, son of Alexander Mather, farmer of Twizell in Durham, who became a citizen of London in 1765, by redemption, through the Worshipful Company of Musicians (this does not mean that James was actually a musician; people joined all sorts of livery company). In his will (1796) he refers to his sister, Margaret; wife, Ann; and children James, Thomas, John, Ann, Frances and Benjamin. His tombstone in Charlton near Woolwich, describes him as a merchant of London who died aged 58, so it is certain that he is the James Mather baptised in 1737, in Norham, Northumberland, son of Alexander Mather. Significantly, as far as the next James Mather is concerned, this James Mather lived in Birchin Lane, Cornhill; he was certainly there when two of his children were baptised (Thomas in 1771 and John in 1773) and other documents show him still there in the 1780s. If he isn't a (close) realtion, then perhps his wife Ann is, which would explain why Thomas asked his brother-in-law, who just happened to have the same suname, to be his executor. James Mather married an Ann Mather in 1774 and Thomas' sister Ann was known to be unmarried and living in London in 1767. Thomas' sister , Ann, had been baptised in 1738; andm when Ann Mather, wife of James, died in 1807, she was 68 which fits fairly well.
Apart from the fact that this James is likely to be the executor for the 1766 will of Thomas Mather (see above); he was also a business partner to Christopher Watson, a boatbuilder responsible for the Prince of Wales, one of the ships in the First Fleet to Australia. Christopher Watson was probably the shipwright who invented the floating dry dock in 1788 and may be the same as the Christopher Watson in my family, shipwright of Greenwich, who married Rebecca Mather, sister to the Thomas Mather already mentioned. My Christopher Watson was known to be a carpenter on board HMS Barfleur in 1776, so he would have had a rapid rise up the ladder of prosperity after that, but it is all grist to the mill when establishing a connection.
The James Mather who emigrated to America in about 1777 and went on to become the mayor of New Orleans, is more of a mystery. There is a lot of evidence for his life after his arrival in Louisiana, when he was a successful trader of many things (including slaves) and one book describes his voyage from England with five other men and his new wife in some detail, but virtually nothing is known of his early life. His 'new wife' was born Frances Mather, but was apparently not related, with some later documents calling her Francisca Sophia Mather, but I don't know where any of this information came from. By 1780 James was an established merchant holding a contract with the Spanish government to use two ships out of New Orleans transporting goods from London to West Florida. He had emigrated to America in 1777 on board the Royal Oak and was said to come from 'Bochin Lane, London'. This name is too close to the Birchin Lane above to be a co-incidence, but clearly this isn't the same James. There was a James Mather, son of Peter Mather of Barmoor in Northumberland, who became apprenticed to the first James in 1770. As an apprentice it is possible that he, too, was living in Birchin Lane with his master; and both were traders/merchants. The timescale is very tight as, if he was 12-14 when apprenticed, he would be barely twenty when he emigrated. An apprenticeship usually lasts seven years with apprentices unable to marry without their master's permission, so the timescales are further squeezed but, however unlikely, it's possible and explains the address. The assumption from everyone is that the marriage between James Mather and Frances Mather in London in 1777 is the same couple but, if this is the only source of Frances' maiden name, we need to tread carefully. the licence application describes James as 'over twenty-one, although this seems unlikely; but comparison between the 1777 signature and a known one from the USA suggests they are the same person. I don't know where the information about 'Bochin Lane' came from, or the name Francisca Sophia.
Where does this James fit into my family? Possibly nowhere, but the Thomas Mather mentioned above, does name his sister Frances in his will, and she is known to be unmarried in London in 1766. It is therefore possible that she is the Frances in the 1777 marriage but - and it is a very big but - she was baptised in 1741 so, if they are the couple who sailed to America, she would have been in her mid-thirties when she married, with James fifteen years younger. They married by licence, but the licence application merely states that both were over twenty-one, and that he had resided in Lewisham for at least he past four weeks. They actually married in the Earl of Dartmouth chapel as the parish church was closed for re-building.
Co-incidences happen, but we are left with several: a marriage between a James Mather and Frances Mather in 1777; a James Mather being apprenticed to a second James Mather in 1770, with both parties a long way from their birthplaces; Thomas Mather asking James Mather to be his executor; one or two Christopher Watsons, both shipwrights, marrying Rebecca Mather and working for James Mather respectively; and other lesser co-incidences such as the commonness of the name Frances in all the families. Do we have one, two or three Mather families? If not one, then my family would have no blood links to America and Australia which would be a pity. When Rebecca Mather married Christopher Watson she gave two of her children Mather as a middle name and it has carried on through the generations to my great-grandfather, Thelwell Mather Pike and finally my grandmother, Jean Mather (Pike) Knott. Was that out of respect for an important family? Probably not: it had just become a habit by 1901. But it would be good to prove it one way or another.
- Robert married Frances Unthank in 1731 by licence. Thomas Mather, currier/tanner, was the guarantor. Thanks to WolfieSmith on Rootschat for finding this licence and related wills on FamilySearch