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 Henry VII.

Map of Bristol, then known as Brightstowe, around 1570

Map of Bristol, then known as Brightstowe, around 1570


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, from the 1673 map below) depicts. The city (population perhaps 4,000 in 1100) was chartered in 1171, and became independent of Gloucestershire 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 apparently would engage 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 involvement in the African slave trade in the eighteenth century . But in every time period wool dominated its trade.

During the time in which we are interested the first historical event of importance was the English Civil War. I do not profess any expertise in English history, but can summarize what happened in Bristol, referring you the reader to another excellent web site for more depth. The city initially stated its allegiance to Parliament and against Charles I. The Royalist forces however were successful in taking the city in 1643, and Charles' nephew, Prince Rupert of Bohemia, was appointed governor, with Sir Ralph, Lord Hopton, appointed as lieutenant-governor. Bristol was successfully reclaimed by the Parliamentarians in September, 1645. The Royalist troops, led by Prince Rupert, were allowed to leave the city (minus their arms), with Rupert being dismissed by the King shortly thereafter.

Bristol avoided further military action in the following years of civil war, with Cromwell becoming the military leader of England by 1653. At one point (after the execution of Charles I) Charles II 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.

During this decade the other event of note was the introduction of the Quaker religion to Bristol in 1654. While during these times any number of sects developed outside the state Church, and even the Quakers were prone to radicalism (go to these sites for traditional and radical discussions, respectively, of the radical Quaker Nayler) none were more successful than the Friends in establishing a continuing 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

A deposition

What follows is a deposition from 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 was directly west of Bristol, on the way towards Backwell. You may recall the town of Long Ashton mentioned in the previous section. But here Ashton may specifically refer to Ashton Court, which at that time was the hereditary residence of Dame Elizabeth Georges, the fourth wife of 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. What I can not say is whether this Thomas is the one whose will I presented in the last section, or rather his son; I favor the latter possibility, however.

Municipal Records

The first records tying our Perrin family to Bristol itself came from these times. 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


From the 1660's records survive of marriages involving the Perrin family in Bristol :

Date Groom Bride Bondsman Parish
23 December 1661 Edward Perrin, St. John, cordwainer Jane Hort, St. Peter John Perin, St. Stephen, sailor St. Mark
29 July 1664 Joseph Day, Temple, sailor Mary Perrin, St. Nicholas Edward Perrin, St. Nicholas, woolen draper Clifton or Cathedral
10 August 1664 Peter Wraxall, Junr., Portbury, Somerset, sailor Ann Raynsdorpe, Whitchurch, Somerset John Perrin, St. John, sailor St. Stephen
15 September 1665 Thomas Perrin, St. Nicholas, merchant Sarah Atty, St. Nicholas Edward Perrin, St. Nicholas, draper St. Nicholas or Cathedral
chapel at St. Mark's

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

A cordwainer is a person who works with shoe leather. It is interesting to see the change in occupations by Edward Perrin from cloth to leather to cloth between 1652 and 1665; in addition he had moved from St. Nicholas to St. John's parish, and back to St. Nicholas within Bristol. As there was no daughter of Thomas Perrin named Mary in his will, I can guess that this Mary Perrin is a cousin or niece of Edward. Similarily I would like to think that the younger Thomas Perrin was married for a second time to Sarah Atty. There is amazing irony that a man named Day would marry a Perrin, or that a Perrin would marry an Atty, given the genealogy to follow.

John Perrin, Mariner

But I digress. John Perrin, who witnessed the marriages of Edward Perrin, and Peter Wraxall, left a will which resides in the British National Archives . The fact that he left a will is not surprising; sailors were highly encouraged to have these on file:

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, and that indeed this is the John who witnessed the wedding of Peter Wraxall. The will also mentioned John's sister Ann, who was mentioned in Thomas Perrin's 1650 will; she had then received the house in Farleigh along with John. It is of interest that one of the renters of that house, Edward Parsons, may have been of the same family which signed the 1614 tithing document quoted in the previous section. That John gave money for the poor of Backwell makes it all the more certain that he was from Thomas Perrin's family.

Storck's painting of the Four Days Battle

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

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

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)

The 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.