John Perrin, mariner of Bristol

Bristol coat of arms

Coat of Arms, Bristol. From Millerd's 1673 Map; © Bristol Museum

This short section records the transition of the Perrins from the bucolic English countryside to the city of Bristol. This move was a mere six miles in space, but to a quite different world. A little orientation will once again be necessary. For those looking for a more general history, I highly recommend the web site brilliantly presented by Jean Manco.



The geography for Bristol was once straightforward, but is now greatly obscured by modern development. The early town straddled the River Avon five miles inland from the Bristol Channel at the site of a Saxon bridge. It was seperated from the sea by a 300 foot high ridge through which the Avon had cut. The river was only navigable at high tide, so while possessing sea access the town was relatively well protected from the raids common in early medieval times. A castle built by the Normans was situated east of the city on a peninsula between Rivers Avon and Frome; it guarded the only land entrance to the city.

The map below, drawn around 1580, shows the walled town on both sides of the river Avon. The bridge which crossed the river after 1450 was a veritable three-story shopping mall. Also shown are the twelve parishes in the city, as named following the nationalization of the church by King Henry VIII.

Map of Bristol, then known as Brightstowe, around 1570

Map of Bristol, then known as Brightstowe, around 1580


Already a settlement at the time of the Norman invasion, Bristol quickly defined itself as a place of maritime trade, as the city coat of arms (shown above) depicts. The city (population perhaps 4,000 in 1100) was chartered in 1171, and became independent in 1373. Its population probably reached 20,000 before the plague years of 1348-9, and was reaching that size once more in the mid seventeenth century. Despite this modest size, Bristol was the second largest city in Britain at that time.

The merchants of Bristol engaged in whatever trade was profitable, be it Anglo slaves (to Ireland) in the eleventh century, or wine from Portugal and France in the thirteenth century. American trade began early; indeed, Cabot set sail from Bristol in 1497, discovering Labrador. During the mid seventeenth century the American trade became important, and at least one author has pointed out that the export of indentured servants then differed little from the earlier trade in white slaves, or Bristol's later involvement in the African slave trade . But throughout wool was Bristol's dominant export.

During the time of interest to us the first historical event of importance was the English Civil War. I can refer to another excellent web site for more depth on this subject. The city of Bristol initially pledged its allegiance to Parliament and against Charles I. However, the Royalist forces were successful in taking the city in 1643,with Charles' nephew, Prince Rupert of Bohemia, appointed governor and Sir Ralph, Lord Hopton, appointed lieutenant-governor. The Parliamentarians beseiged the city in September, 1645, forcing a Royalist surrender. Prince Rupert and his troops were disarmed and allowed to leave the city.

Bristol avoided any further military action in the civil war. Charles I was ultimately executed, with Cromwell becoming the military leader of England by 1653. Charles II, son of Charles I, escaped from England through Somerset, staying in cognito for a time at Abbots Leigh, just north of Ashton . It is said that Cromwell ordered the destruction of Bristol Castle in 1656.

Advocates of the Quaker religion reached Bristol in 1652. During these times any number of religous sects developed outside the state Church, and the Quakers were prone to radicalism (go to these sites for traditional and critical discussions, respectively, of the radical Quaker Nayler). But the Friends successfully established a lassting presence in this city, despite on and off persecution by the government through the 1680s. I personally believe much of their success was due to their being able to form a cohesive business community, as may become clear in the next section.

Early Perrin Records in Bristol

Records that may concern Thomas Perrin, Jr.

I will start with a deposition found in the Bristol city records. It unfortunately was not dated, but filed among other documents from 1646 :

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Whereas wee George Barnard Thomas Earle John Barnard George dwelley Henry Gwyn Henry Coulstaffe Thomas Perryn & Thomas Palmer doe understand that one Robert Ashley a journiman shoemaker of the Cittie of Bristoll hath taken a most dangerous and desperate othe before some of the honorable Comittee of Parliament for the said Cittie against Mr Henry Floure of the parish Kenisham in the County of Somerset to this or the like effect following vizt

The manor of Ashton mentioned in this deposition is directly west of Bristol, on the way towards Backwell. You may recall the town of Long Ashton mentioned in the previous section. Here Ashton probably refers to Ashton Court, which at that time was the hereditary residence of Dame Elizabeth Georges, the fourth wife of Sir Ferdinando Georges. Her will in 1654 noted that Thomas Piggott, the owner of the public house where this incident occurred, was her daughter-in-law's husband . Other discussions of the Georges clearly indicate that the members of this family were adamant royalists .

So as I read the above document, Robert Ashley was beat up, and he claimed that this occurred because he would not drink to the health of the Royalist occupiers of Bristol. This would certainly make the most sense if it occurred before September, 1645. The people deposed above all provided reasons why Master Ashley could not be telling the truth. On that basis I can say that Thomas Perrin either was 1) an honest man, or 2) in collusion with other Royalist (gentry) lackeys.

I can not say is whether this Thomas is the one whose will I presented in the last section, or else his son; I favor the latter possibility. A Thomas Perrin married Elnor Wickam in Long Ashton August 2, 1641 . Thomas Perryn was a plaintiff with others against Sybil Holbrook, widow and others in a suit that conerned property in Backwell and Glastonbury in 1646 ; this record I have not seen yet. Similarly I have not seen the original record for the death of Thomas Perrin in Abbots Leigh, other than his burial was June 3, 1713 . At this time I do not know enough about this person to say anything definitive.

Municipal Records

The first records that may tie our Perrin family to Bristol itself come shortly sfter the deposition. The property records of the Jackson family showed that Edward Perryn, woolen draper, obtained a lease in St. Nicholas Parish on May 13, 1651, surrendering it on January 19, 1652/3 . Then in 1654 a petition supporting the election of Miles Jackson & Robert Aldworth Esqrs to sit in the city parliament (House of Burgesses) contained the name Edward Perrin .

Millierd's Map of Bristol, 1673

Millierd's Map of Bristol, 1673. © Bristol Museum


There are four records from the 1660s of marriages in Bristol involving the Perrins . Two of these records probably involve persons from another Perrin family and can be viewed only by clicking the eyeglasses icon. The other two of importance are shown here.

Date Groom Bride Bondsman Parish
23 December 1661 Edward Perrin, St. John, cordwainer Jane Hort, St. Peter John Perin, St. Stephen, sailor St. Mark
10 August 1664 Peter Wraxall, Junr., Portbury, Somerset, sailor Ann Raynsdorpe, Whitchurch, Somerset John Perrin, St. John, sailor St. Stephen
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chapel at St. Mark's

Poyntz Chapel at St. Mark's, Bristol, built ca. 1523

That Edward Perrin and John Perrin, the groom and bondsman in the 1661 wedding, are the sons of Thomas Perrin of Backwell described in the last section will become clear below.

John Perrin, Mariner

John Perrin, mariner left a will filed in Canterbury . While I stated in the last section that only people with property had wills filed with the national church, sailors were an exception to this rule. In fact sailors were highly encouraged to make out a will.

John Perrin will

First page of John Perrin will, 1665/6

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In the name of God Amen This Seventh and Twentieth Day of February in the Eighteenth year of the Raign of our Sovereign Lord Charles the Second by the grace of God of England Scotland France and Ireland Defender of the Faith {or Anno Dom. 1665}

I John Perrin of the Citty of Bristoll Mariner being at the present in perfect health of Body and of sound mind and memory praised bee God therefore considering with my soule the certainty of Death and the uncertainty of the Time thereof to avoid all Troubles and Contentions that may arise after my Death touching or concerning my Estate which I shall leave at my Death Do make constitute and ordain this in said Will and Testament in manner and forme following that is to say

The original has no punctuation: I have transcribed each "sentence" as a line for easier reading. The oddest entry in this will is the fifty shillings left for the poor to buy gloves; anyone doubting that sentence should review the original document.

The will confirmed that John and Edward were brothers. The will also mentioned John's sister Ann, now married to Thomas Edmond. In Thomas Perrin's 1650 will Ann had received the inn in Farleigh along with John. The will mentions two persons who were renting that house; one of them (Edward Parsons) may have been of the same family who signed the 1614 tithing document quoted in the previous section. As John gave money to the poor of Backwell it is certain that he was from Thomas Perrin's family.

John must have died in 1666, as there is a probate record for him dated March 11, 1666/7 .

Inventory of John Perrin Estate

Inventory of John Perrin Estate

This record has proven to be quite difficult to read, given how light the writing is in the copy I obtained and the number of abbreviations used in it. As a result I shall not try to give you the entire text of the doument. However it has provided information of importance. It states that John "Dyed ... in ye Kings Service", and beyond what might expect in his estate (e.g., the property listed in his will, clothing, some dining ware, "two ... Mapps and other Insturments belonging to a Marriner", "1 small Pistoll, three or foure small bookes", cash) there were two items of potential importance. The first item:

rec'd of Master Wm Willott the Junior of five pounds which he had rec'd before of Thos. Edmond to pay unto your detors when he was a prisoner in Holland and which said five pounds was not paid to the said debts as can be made appeare soe that in case it may be proved hereafter by Master Willott the younger for 5 pounds was paid to the Debt in Holland or to any by his order then the said Thomas Edmond is to repay the same againe unto Mr. Willott

Storck's painting of the Four Days Battle

Four Days Battle, painted by Abraham Storck (1644-1708), Minneapolis Institute of Art

I can't say that I understand the syntax very well here, but it appears that John was imprisoned in Holland at the time of his death. It seems likely to me that this would have occurred as a result of the Second Anglo Dutch War, 1664 - 1667, and most specifically, from the Battle of Four Days in the summer of 1666 during which the Dutch captured 2,000 prisoners from ten English ships. (The above painting by Storck entitled "Four Days Battle" shows the Dutch squadron's two principal ships, the Gouda and the Spiegel, toward the center of the composition. While both sides claim to have won the battle, the Dutch art is definitely superior to the English)

A second item, "a bill of 54 hundred pounds weight of Sugar which lyes in ye Barbadhoes", was added on as an afterthought to the inventory. It showed that John had sailed to the New World and probably dabbled in trading, a practice which we will see his older brother take up in the next section.