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William Dearman  A life

Let’s start with what I do know - not a lot it has to be said.  On 26th June 1797 he married Ann Mason in Essendon, Hertfordshire - a sleepy little village just north of Enfield where the Dearman ancestors later settled.  I found the marriage, once I had found the baptism of their son James - the Dearman ancestor.  James was baptised in 1801 in the same church.  This led to the discovery of other baptisms - five that I could find, dating between 1797 and 1808.  Strangely none of the children were called William or Ann, so I do sometimes wonder whether there are others that I have missed.  Two, however, had the very distinctive name of Mahalah - two because presumably the first one died, although the two were baptised on the same date but two years apart, which is curious.  To this day I have no idea where the name came from, though coincidentally a Mahala Dearman was baptised in America in the same year as the second one!

The only other definite thing I know about William is that he must have died before 1820.  Why do I think this?  Well his youngest son John was convicted and sentenced to death (more later) and in his plea for mercy it was mentioned that he had been without his parents since the age of 12, which would have been in 1820.  This could have been a lie of course, but I doubt it.  It could have been checked after all.  If William was born in 1772 (to Thomas Dearman of Little Berkhamsted) then he would have been only 48 when he died.

Then there is a conveyancing document for Bedwell Park which refers to two cottages included in the transaction and occupied by William Dearman and Oliver Mason.  Because the second cottage was occupied by Oliver Mason (his wife’s surname) I am assuming that this William Dearman is our William - but it is only an assumption.  I have no proof.  I also only have the catalogue reference to this.  Must get a copy of the whole thing, though I doubt it will tell me much more.

Going back to the marriage we can see from the parish register that both William and Ann were from Essendon and that both of them were illiterate, as were their witnesses, Susannah Waters and William Taylor (I don’t know who they were).  Frustratingly, whoever wrote the record forgot to say whether they were single, or widowed, which might have helped with a further possibility that I shall come to shortly.

Further supporting evidence for this being the correct marriage is that in James’ convict record in Tasmania it states that he had two convict brothers Joseph and John and that his parents were called William and Ann, so I think this is probably as convincing evidence as you can get for this period.  Unless your ancestor lived long enough to be counted in the 1841 census and/or unless he was a notable person, you are not probably going to find much other than parish records.

So now I go into the maybes.  For there are a couple of tantalising maybes.  And they are just maybes because, as I have already said there are several William Dearmans in the area at the time.

The first maybe probably only applies if our William was actually the son of William and Ruth and not of Thomas (my current favourite for father).  It concerns a William who was up before the Overseers of the Poor for living in the wrong place.  Before the state looked after the poor, the individual villages and towns were responsible for their welfare - well sort of.  However, to receive any kind of handouts you had to prove that you belonged to a particular place.  If found not to belong you could be sent back to where you came from.  And in the Hertfordshire Archives are records of a William Dearman, his wife Elizabeth and three-year old daughter, Mary being returned to Brickendon from Hoddesdon.  Brickendon is close to Essendon, Hoddesdon is a little further away.  So it could be our William - which would mean he was married before his marriage to Ann.  Sixteen years ago (we are now in 1791) he had “let himself to Robert Warren for a year” and  he stayed on for a year.  This had been sixteen years ago and he had not lived anywhere else since for more than a year.  Somehow he ended up in Hoddesdon, and the officers of the town were now ssending him back to Brickendon.  If this is our William then he would have had to have been married before - unlikely if he was Thomas’s son - the only likely marriage would have meant he was only 14 when he married!  So this is an interesting glimpse into the lives of the rural poor, but probably not relevant.

The other more tantalising piece of evidence is the discharge of one William Dearman from the army in 1814 after service of 5 years and 175 days in His Majesty’s 95th Regiment of Foot, due to rheumatism and extreme disability which prevents him from being of use abroad.  The document gives his age as being about 30 and that he was born in the Parish of St. John’s in Hertford.  Which doesn’t really fit with either of ‘our’ William’s birthdates.  The date of discharge (1814) would fit the fact that William was dead by 1820 though.  It would also fit the fact that his last child, John was born in 1808 and this William Dearman began his service in the army in 1809.  So - tantalising.  

This is the time of the Napoleonic wars remember and if he served in this section of the army he would have been in Spain, most notably in Cadiz and Corunna.  The 95th was apparently a fairly unique regiment in that they were riflemen and were dressed in green rather than the traditional bright red.  According to the website ‘Swords Collection’“Their role was to act as skirmishers against Napoleon's French armies.  The purpose of the regiment was to have the riflemen working in open order and be able to think for themselves, a method completely unheard of. ... to harass the enemy with accurately aimed shots as opposed to releasing a mass volley, which was the common way of combat of the day.”  So maybe our William was a sharp shooter in the Napoleonic Wars.  Must have been completely frightening!  Apparently there were a large number of volunteers for this battalion from the militia, which is like our modern day reserves.  

So William may have found himself out of a job and a home, when Bedwell Park was sold, joined the army, became debilitated by rheumatism, and basically came back home, a pauper, to die.  With rheumatism he would not have been able to work as any kind of labourer.  Well this is a possible story - and one rather less based on fact that my other stories I think.  It could have been like that though.  For he does seem to have died young.

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