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Saint Boltoph's Northfleet Parish Church in County Kent, England

Norfleet Family Genealogy

Merton College, Oxford, the college of Master John de Northflete

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Norfleets of 17th Century England

 

Social Class in Seventeenth Century England

Social Class in old England was a very rigidly and carefully defined hierarchy. Everyone was quite conscious of the social class to which they belonged and many were constantly trying to elevate their social ranking. The true ruling classes of England in those days were the Aristocracy (Nobilitas Major) and the Gentry (Nobilitas Minor), all families of which had been granted Coats of Arms. To assure proper control and documentation of these grants of arms, a college of heralds arose, who worked on behalf of the sovereign and were given full authority to settle disputes, legalize grants of arms and make new grants. Today, that function is performed in England and Wales by the College of Arms, located in London. Before the Industrial Revolution and the egalitarian trends of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had taken effect, most political power and social privilege belonged to these classes alone. If you were not at least a member of the Gentry, you were not even entitled to use the terms of Mr., Mrs. or Miss in connection with your name! You were just plain old Thomas Norfleet or Elizabeth Pheasant, although you might respectfully and affectionately be referred to as "Goodman" Norfleet or "Goodwife" ("Goodie") Pheasant.

A few years after the time of the emigration of the first Norfleets to Virginia Colony, in the seventeenth century, a herald (Rouge Dragon Pursuivant-at-Arms) named Gregory King worked out a distribution by social class, including both numbers of people and family income, of the English population for the year 1688. The accuracy of this distribution has been challenged by several modern historians and sociologists. However, King’s distribution remains the best and most detailed survey of English social class before the enormous changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

 

Hyperlink to Gregory King's Distribution

 

The Norfleets apparently were members of neither the Aristocracy nor the Gentry. In 1985, I had the College of Arms in London conduct a search to see if a Coat of Arms had ever been granted to a Norfleet; negative results were obtained (see copy of the letter at the right).

Based on information contained in parish registers, marriage licenses and wills, most of the English Norfleets were apparently of the middle class being typically farmers or tradesmen; the more successful people were designated as "yeomen" or "householders." Before parish registers were required in 1538, virtually the only people ever mentioned in the written records were members of the Aristocracy, the Gentry or the Clergy. Accordingly, all the events involving the Norfleets recorded during the period prior to 1538 are associated with people who were members of the Clergy or who were involved in legal proceedings.

 

Norfleet Wills of 17th Century England

Prior to the Court of Probate Act in 1857, virtually all English wills were proven in ecclesiastical courts. One exception was the secular Court of Husting in London, which is the oldest court of record in London and was the court of probate with respect to goods and property lying within the City of London in the later Middle Ages. However, for most wills made subsequent to 1500, the Archdeaconry Courts exercised the probate responsibility. Even so, the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) was considered to be the foremost court of probate in England and Wales and was frequently utilized by the higher social classes. It, also, was the only court, which could prove wills made by persons dying in the colonies or at sea who left estates in England. For this reason, the wills probated by the PCC are the ones most often searched by Americans looking for colonial ancestors who died leaving estates in England.

To date only three wills associated with the Norfleets have been found in England; two of these wills date from the 17th century and were probated in the courts as cited below. The genealogical information contained in these wills is summarized as follows:

1.  Prerogative Court of Canterbury: The will, dated 18 February 1662/1663, of John Norfleete, Mariner of Faversham Parish, Kent was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1662/1663. His will provides for his "dear Mother" - 10 Pounds; to his daughter Susan (an infant) - 100 Pounds, when she reaches 21 years of age; to his brother Thomas - 5 Shillings; and the remainder of his goods to his wife Margaret; his wife is also named as sole executor. Since this will was proven in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and there is no record of burial in Faversham, it is probable that this John Norfleet died overseas (perhaps in Virginia Colony?). The sum of 100 Pounds was a substantial amount in 1663, more than two (2) years’ income for most people in those days (see Gregory King's distribution in Section 3 of this essay). The original will is on file at the Public Records Office, London. This John Norfleet is probably the same person as the John Norfleet listed in the Faversham militia muster roll, dated 30 October 1661, as a pikeman of the "Trained Company" (see Section 8 of this essay).

2.  Archdeaconry Court of Canterbury: The will, dated 08 January 1680/1681, of Thomas Norfleete, Yeoman (Householder) of Molash Parish, Kent, was proved in 1681 in the Archdeaconry Court of Canterbury. His will provides for the following: To his daughter Francis Lowd - 100 Pounds; to his daughter Susan Norfleete - 100 Pounds; to his son John Norfleete - 5 Shillings; to Katherine, the wife of John Norfleete - 4 Shillings; to his sister Tabitha Adams for her natural life a dwelling where his "deceased Mother" had previously lived; to his son Thomas Norfleete all of his lands and tenements lying in the Parishes of Molash and Smarden. As mentioned above, the amount of 100 Pounds was a very significant sum in those days. The original version of this will is on file at the Kent County Archives Office, Maidstone, Kent.3.  Archdeaconry Court of Canterbury: The will, dated 08 January 1680/1681, of Thomas Norfleete, Yeoman (Householder) of Molash Parish, Kent, was proved in 1681 in the Archdeaconry Court of Canterbury. His will provides for the following: To his daughter Francis Lowd - 100 Pounds; to his daughter Susan Norfleete - 100 Pounds; to his son John Norfleete - 5 Shillings; to Katherine, the wife of John Norfleete - 4 Shillings; to his sister Tabitha Adams for her natural life a dwelling where his "deceased Mother" had previously lived; to his son Thomas Norfleete all of his lands and tenements lying in the Parishes of Molash and Smarden. As mentioned above, the amount of 100 Pounds was a very significant sum in those days. The original version of this will is on file at the Kent County Archives Office, Maidstone, Kent.

Norfleet Marriage Licenses in 17th Century England

By the late Sixteenth Century, marriage by license rather than by the traditional publishing of parish marriage banns was becoming increasingly popular, particularly among the more "well to do" people. Use of licenses avoided the publicity of the banns procedure and required less time before the actual marriage ceremony was carried out. The Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury could authorize a marriage in any parish in England. Also, the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury could issue licenses to marry in any parish within the Province of Canterbury. I have located a total of eight licenses, issued from one or the other of these sources, which pertain to people with the Norfleet surname. The information recorded is really from the allegations made prior to actually receiving the licenses. These allegations frequently included such valuable genealogical information as age and occupation.

List of Norfleet Marriage License Records in England

The following chronological list summarizes the information contained in these eight license records:

1.  13 July 1611: Marriage by license of John Northfleete of Saint Lawrence in Thanet, Mercer (silk merchant), and Marie Brooke of Sandwich, Widow, at Saint Paul's Without the Walls of the City of Canterbury Parish, Kent County. [Allegations for Marriage Licenses Issued by the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Parish Register of Saint Paul's, Canterbury]

2.  25 September 1676: Marriage of John Norfleet of Faversham, Blacksmith, Bachelor, age 23, to Katherine Greenstreete, age 21, Spinster, of Ospringe. Thomas Greenstreete of Ospringe, Yeoman, is Bondsman. The marriage takes place at Saint Mary Bredin, Canterbury. Note: The Greenstreetes of Ospringe are referred to as being major land owners with many being members of the Gentry, by Thomas Hasted in his late Eighteenth Century work, The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, Volume VI, Pages 515-516. Also, this John Norfleet is undoubtedly the son of Thomas Norfleete, Yeoman, of Molash Parish. [Allegations for Marriage Licenses Issued by the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Parish Register of Saint Mary Bredin, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

3.  16 May 1680: Marriage of Francis Northflet, Spinster, age 26, to John Lowd, Yeoman, age 23, in Molash Parish, Kent County. John Norfleete of Faversham, Blacksmith, Bondsman. Note: She is undoubtedly the sister of John Norfleete and the daughter of Thomas Norfleete, Yeoman of Molash, whose will is discussed above. [Allegations for Marriage Licenses Issued by the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Parish Register]

4.  13 September 1680: Marriage of Margaret Norflett, Spinster, age 21 of Saint Dunstan's, Canterbury, to Richard Smith, Husbandman, Bachelor, age 25, of Saint Dunstan's, Canterbury, at Saint Mary Bredin, Canterbury. [Allegations for Marriage Licenses Issued by the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury]

5.  29 March 1682: Marriage of Thomas Norfleete of Faversham, Shipwright, Bachelor, age 25, to Elizabeth Pheasant, Spinster, Widow, at Saint Mary Bredin, Canterbury. [Allegations for Marriage Licenses Issued by the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the LDS International Genealogical Index]

6.  23 April 1685: Marriage of Susanna Norfleete, of Saint Olave's, Hart Street, London, about age 21, both her parents dead, and Thomas Swift of Meopham, Kent, Gentleman, Bachelor, about age 28, at Saint Olave's, Hart Street. She may be the Susan Norfleete cited in the will of Thomas Norflete, Yeoman of Molash discussed above. Saint Olave's was also the parish church for Samuel Pepys, who at this time was Secretary of the Admiralty under James II. He is best known as the author of the famous Diary. [Allegations for Marriage Licenses Issued by the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Parish Register of Saint Olave's, Hart Street]

7.  03 April 1694: Marriage of Mrs. Catherine Norfleete, Widow about age 39, of Faversham, and Leonard Meeres, Mariner, widower about age 40, at Ospringe Parish, Kent County. Note: She is probably the widow of John Norfleet, Blacksmith of Faversham who died c. 1690. [Allegations for Marriage Licenses Issued by the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury]

8.  April 1710: Marriage of Ann Norfleet to Joseph Narraway. Ann may be the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Norfleet of Faversham whose christening is cited in the Faversham parish records (see records abstracts listed below). [Calendar of Marriage Licenses Issued by the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury at London]

 

References to the Norfleet Family in the Parish Registers and Bishop’s Transcripts of Kent

In 1538, Thomas Cromwell, then Vicar-General of England, issued on King Henry VIII's behalf an injunction requiring the parish clergy to commence the keeping of paper registers recording every wedding, christening and burial taking place in their parishes. However, only a few registers go back to this date; it was not until about 1600 that almost all parishes in Kent County were keeping systematic records. In 1597, the Provincial Convocation of Canterbury ordered that the old paper registers should be transcribed onto parchment and the churchwardens of each parish should within a month after Easter transmit to the Diocesan Registry a transcript of the register entries for the prior year. These documents, referred to as Bishop's Transcripts, for parishes in Kent County are currently being maintained at the Canterbury Cathedral Archives. Unfortunately, no records were kept in most of the parishes during the English Civil War and Commonwealth Period (1640-1661).

To date, I have been able to locate a total of 50 references to the Norfleets in the parish records and bishop’s transcripts of England. These references primarily occur during the time periods 1596-1629 and 1663-1699, all of which are from parishes in Kent, 47 of which are from the northeast portion of Kent.. The number of references by parish is summarized as follows:

Swanscombe 01
Northfleet 02
Saint Lawrence in Thanet 03
Canterbury 03
Molash 03
Chilham 05
Faversham 33
Total - All Parishes 50

Parish of Swanscombe

The earliest entry, which I have yet found concerning a member of the Norfleet family, is from the Parish of Swanscombe. This Parish is directly adjacent to the Parish of Northfleet. The Swanscombe reference relates to the marriage of a certain John Norfleet to Margaret Perse. Unfortunately, I cannot connect this reference to any other Norfleet references found in the records of other parishes. The reference is as follows:

10 October 1596: Marriage of John Norflet and Margaret Perse, Swanscombe Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Society of Genealogists, London]

Parish of Northfleet

The two most recent entries, which I have yet found, concerning a person with a Northfleet surname are from the Parish of Northfleet. These references, dated in 1775 and 1776 respectively, pertain to the baptism and death of an exposed infant found within the parish; the infant was given the Northfleet surname after the name of the parish in which he was found. Therefore, this child almost certainly was not in any way related to the Norfleets who migrated to Virginia Colony. These references are:

1.  23 April 1775: Christening of James Northfleet, of unknown parentage (an exposed infant), Northfleet Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, typed manuscript located at the Society of Genealogists, London]

2.  26 January 1776: Burial of James Northfleet, an infant, Northfleet Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, typed manuscript located at the Society of Genealogists, London]

Parish of Saint Lawrence in Thanet

Some of the earliest parish entries pertaining to people with the Norfleet surname are from the Isle of Thanet, a region located in extreme northeast Kent. Thanet was once an island separated from the rest of Kent by the Wantsum Channel. However, this channel silted up in medieval times and Thanet is now completely landlocked. The parish references, three in number, are from the Parish of St. Lawrence in Thanet as follows:

1.  06 December 1600: Burial of John Norfluet, Saint Lawrence in Thanet Parish, Kent County. [Bishop's Transcripts, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

2.  15 April 1618: Christening of Joanne, daughter of William Norflet, Saint Lawrence in Thanet Parish, Kent County. [Bishop's Transcripts, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

3.  06 May 1629: Burial of Luke Norflete, Saint Lawrence in Thanet Parish, Kent County. [Bishop's Transcripts, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

Parishes within the City of Canterbury

Of the three references from parishes within the City of Canterbury, one reference (that of Elizabeth Northfleete, widow of Thomas) can be related to Norfleets cited in the parish records of Faversham. The other two references cannot be connected to any of the other Norfleet references found in the records of the other parishes. The three references are:

1.  11 March 1620/1621: Christening of James, the son of John Norfleet, at Saint Paul's Without the Walls of the City of Canterbury, Kent County. [Bishop's Transcripts, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

2.  24 June 1667: Burial of "Goodman" Norfleete, Saint Paul's Without the Walls of the City of Canterbury, Kent County. {Bishop's Transcripts, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

3.  19 September 1699: Marriage of Elizabeth Northfleete, Widow of Faversham, and Thomas Belcham, Widower of Ospringe, Saint George the Martyr (Canterbury) Parish, Kent County. Elizabeth is undoubtedly the widow of Thomas Norfleet, Shipwright, of Faversham. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

Parishes of Chilham and Molash

The eight references to the Norfleet family contained in the parish records of Chilham and Molash have been combined. These parishes are physically adjacent to one another. Furthermore, in the seventeenth century, the manor of Molash was subject to the Lords of Chilham Manor (who were members of the Diggs Family, see Section 2 of my essay on the Norfleets of Colonial Virginia and North Carolina) and the Vicar of Chilham was also the Vicar of Molash.

Chilham Village

I briefly visited Chilham while on a visit to England in April 1995. I found modern-day Chilham to be a very picturesque village. Although dominated by a large Jacobean manor house, the village has retained its old English country charm. The only remaining structure of what was once Chilham Castle, is a relatively small, octagonal stone keep, which was originally built by Henry II in Norman times. The Chilham Manor House or "Mansion," as it is more commonly called, was constructed by Sir Dudley Diggs in the early seventeenth century and is quite impressive on the exterior. The mansion is still privately owned and is not open to the public except on special occasions. The Parish Church, Saint Mary’s was built in the fourteenth century of flint stone and is quite beautiful.  (See photo on the right.)

 

The White Horse Pub in Chilham

Street Scene from Chilham

Molash

I didn’t have time to visit nearby Molash, but was told that at the present time (1995) Molash is really nothing more than a crossroads.

I consider it highly probable that all of the Norfleets referenced in the parish records of Chilham and Molash were closely related not only to each other but also to the first Norfleet immigrant to Virginia.

Parish Records for Chilham and Molash

The eight parish references are as follows:

1.  26 October 1607: Christening of Elizabeth, the daughter of Richard Norflete, Chilham Parish, Kent County. [Bishop's Transcripts, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

2.  24 July 1608: Christening of Abraham, the son of Edward Norflete, Chilham Parish, Kent County. [Bishop's Transcripts, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

3.  01 October 1627: Christening of Thomas, the son of John Norflete, Chilham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

4.  17 August 1628: Christening of Margaret, the daughter of John Norfleete, Chilham Parish, Kent County. The name originally entered in the register is crossed out and the name" John" written above it. The original name appears to be "Thomas." The LDS International Genealogical Index gives the name as "Haram Norfleese!" [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

5.  31 December 1655: Birth of William, the son of Thomas Norflete and Sarah his wife, Chilham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

6.  07 November 1679: Burial of Philis or Philisia (?) "Goodie" Northflet, Molash Parish, Kent County. Note: She possibly is the wife of Thomas Norflete whose death is cited in item 7 below. [Bishop's Transcripts, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

7.  13 January 1680/1681: Burial of Thomas Northflet, a Householder (called a Yeoman in the Parish Register), Molash Parish, Kent County. [Bishop's Transcripts and the Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

8.  09 December 1683: Burial of Thomas Norfleet, a Householder, Molash Parish, Kent County. Note: This may be the son of the Thomas Norfleete who died in 1681 (see item 7 above). [Bishop's Transcripts, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

Parish and Town of Faversham

By far, the greatest number (33) of parish record entries pertaining to the Norfleets in England have been associated with the Parish of Faversham. The Parish of Faversham is also an incorporated town and port; it is of very ancient provenance with a history going back to Roman times. The town is situated just to the north side of the ancient Roman thoroughfare, which, since medieval times, has been called "Watling Street". The town is a corporate member of the Cinque Port of Dover and hence, in the seventeenth century, was subordinate to the Governor of Dover Castle. In the seventeenth century, Faversham enjoyed thriving shipbuilding, gunpowder and oyster industries. Today its principal industries are fruit packaging and the brewing of beer (at the Shepherd Neame Brewery).

Saint Mary of Charity is the Parish Church of Faversham. (See photograph at the right.) This church is most impressive on account of its surprising size and unusual aisled transepts. Although restored in the late 18th century, it retains many Norman features. The distinctive crown spire dates from 1797 and the elegant nave from a slightly earlier period. Particularly interesting features are the grotesque misericords beneath the choir stalls, the brightly emblazoned tomb of Edward Fagg, and the 14th Century frescoed octagonal pillar. 

In 1688-1689, John Norfleet (1653-1690) was one of the parish churchwardens here.

My personal belief is that the Norfleets of Faversham are almost certainly related not only to the Norfleets of Chilham/Molash, but also to the first Norfleet immigrant to Virginia, Thomas Northfleete.

The 33 known references from the Faversham parish records are as follows:

1.  29 April 1663: Marriage of Margaret Northfleete, Widow, to Thomas Phillipes, Faversham Parish, Kent County. Margaret is probably the widow of John Norfleet (d. Jan 1662/1663), mariner of Faversham. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

2.  03 March 1665/1666: Burial of Susanna Northflett, Faversham Parish, Kent County. This person may be the daughter of John Norfleete, mariner of Faversham. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

3.  14 May 1667: Burial of Thomas Phillips (husband of Margaret, Widow of John Northfleete?), Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

4.  04 April 1670: Marriage of Margaret Phillips to William Phillips (brother of Thomas Phillips?), Faversham Parish, Kent County. Note: Margaret apparently was originally the wife of John Northfleete, Mariner, who died in 1662/1663. She subsequently married Thomas Phillips in 1663; Thomas Phillips died in 1667. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

5.  24 January 1677/1678: Christening of John, son of John and Katherine Northfleet, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

6.  06 March 1678/1679: Burial of Thomas Northfleet, an infant, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

7.  03 December 1682: Christening of John, son of John and Catherine Northflete, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

8.  05 May 1684: Christening of Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Northflete, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

9.  28 December 1684: Christening of Thomas, son of John and Catherine Northflete, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register]

10.  05 April 1685: Burial of Thomas Northflete, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

11.  19 January 1685/1686: Christening of John, son of Thomas and Elizabeth Northflete, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

12.  27 June 1686: Burial of Margaret Phillips (probably the wife of John Northfleete, who died in 1663, then the wife of Thomas Phillips, who died in 1670 and finally the wife of William Phillips), Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

13.  04 August 1686: Christening of Henry, son of John and Katherine Northflete, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

14.  06 September 1687: Christening of Ann, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Northflete, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

15.  30 October 1688: Burial of an unnamed stillborn child of John Northfleet, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

16.  15 November 1688: Christening of Judith, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Northfleet, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

17.  1688/1689: The Bishop's Transcripts for this year are signed by John "Norfleet" as Churchwarden (a signature, not a "mark"), Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Bishop's Transcripts, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

18.  10 October 1689: Christening of Thomas, son of Thomas and Elizabeth Northfleet, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

19.  26 January 1689/1690: Christening of Katherine, daughter of John and Katherine Northfleet, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

20.  10 March 1689/1690: Burial of John Northfleet, Householder, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

21.  08 October 1690: Burial of Elizabeth Northflete, a child, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

22.  09 April 1691: Burial of Thomas Northfleet, a child, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

23.  01 July 1691: Burial of Judith Northfleet, a child, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

24.  19 July 1691: Christening of Thomas, son of Thomas and Elizabeth Northfleet, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

25.  18 October 1691: Burial of Katherine Northfleet, a child, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

26.  10 November 1692: Burial of Thomas Northflete, a child, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

27.  10 February 1692/1693: Burial of John Northfleet, a child, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

28.  16 May 1693: Christening of Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Northflete, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

29.  29 May 1693: Burial of John Northflete, a child, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

30.  18 January 1694/1695: Christening of John, son of Thomas and Elizabeth Northfleet, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

31.  23 January 1694/1695: Burial of John Northfleet, a child, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

32.  12 November 1696: Burial of Henry Northflete, a child, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

33.  12 November 1696: Burial of Elizabeth Northfleet, a child, Faversham Parish, Kent County. [Parish Register, Canterbury Cathedral Archives]

Norfleets in the Faversham Militia

During the Sixteenth Century, a local militia company was formed in Faversham known as the "Select" or "Trained" Band. At least two Norfleets were members of this militia group, as follows:

1.  30 October 1661: John Norfleet is cited in the muster lists as a pikeman of the "Trained Company" (local militia) of the Town of Faversham. Note: This John Norfleet is probably the Mariner of Faversham who died in 1663 (see above). [Faversham Borough Records Militia Musters, Kent County Records Office, Maidstone, Kent]

2.  15 September 1686: The Common Council (Faversham) orders John Norfleet to be paid 1 Pound, 8 Shillings, 6 Pence for his Halbert; the money being expended on a halbert and case for himself as one of the Sergeants of the "Trained Band." The halbert, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was a combination spear and battle-ax with a handle of from five to seven feet long. By 1686 it was mainly a ceremonial weapon carried by the sergeants of the local Faversham militia. The John Norfleet referred to was probably the Blacksmith and Householder of Faversham who died in 1690. [See Notes from the Minute Books of the Corporation of Faversham as published in the Journal of the Kent Archaeological Society, Volume 28, Page 70.]

 

Norfleets Cited in the Seventeenth Century Hearth Tax Lists

The hearth tax was initiated in the year 1662 and continued until 1688. The tax formed a major part of the government’s revenue during the reigns of Charles II and James II; however, it was abolished after the Glorious Revolution deposed James II. [1] Hearth taxes were imposed on the occupiers of houses (rather than owners) at the rate of 2 Shillings per each hearth (chimney). The tax for each year was collected in two (2) installments, the first due at "Lady Day" (L = 25 March) and at the second at "Michaelmas (M = 29 September). The tax was collected at the county level, hence some copies of the returns are available at the county record offices. However, most existing returns are located at the Public Record Office (PRO). I reviewed the original County Kent tax lists for the years 1662M, 1663L and 1671M at the PRO in Chancery Lane, London; the microfilm of the list for 1664L was also reviewed at the Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone. None of these lists are complete for all parishes in Kent, however, the 1671M list is the most complete listing (about 28,000 names) now extant for Kent.

The purpose of my review was to find potential new candidates for the household from whence the original immigrant, "Thomas Northfleete" (who apparently had arrived in Virginia Colony in the year 1666) derived. Unfortunately, I could locate no new family groups. The 1664L list disclosed, for Molash parish, the name of "Thomas Northfleet" (2 hearths for one house and 1 hearth for another house). Of course, this Thomas Northfleet, yeoman, is already well known to us from parish register entries and from his will that was probated in the Archdeaconry Court of Canterbury in 1681. In the 1671M list for Molash Parish, the name "Thomas Norfleet" appears, for 2 hearths. This obviously is the same person as found in the 1664L list.

Returns for the town of Faversham were missing from the 1662 and 1663 lists, hence I could not check for the presence of John Norfleet, mariner of Faversham, who died in January 1663 and whose will was probated in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. The 1671 list did include the town of Faversham but no Norfleets were noted. Failure to find any additional Norfleet households in the 1671M list is particularly disappointing as it is the most complete hearth tax list for Kent now extant. The conclusion to be drawn is that Norfleet households are extremely rare during this time frame and no candidate families, from whence the original Virginia immigrant came, are yet discernible.

Gentleman’s Magazine

The latest reference to a Norfleet living in England, which I have been able to locate, occurs in the year 1781. It was reported in that year that "Mister William Norfleet" had died at the age of 97, at Henley upon Thames Parish, Middlesex County (a town near London). The notice appeared in Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Volume LII, for the year MDCCLXXXII, Page 599. Normally, this magazine only takes note of people who are members of the English gentry and/or aristocracy. However, I believe the death of William Norfleet was noted, not because he was a member of the gentry, but because of his advanced age at the time of his demise.

 

Spelling of the Norfleet Surname

In general, spelling in the English Language did not become standardized until after the publication of Dr. Samuel Johnson's Dictionary in 1755 and surname spelling did not stabilize until many years later. People in the early days, including learned men, spelled as the spirit moved them, sometimes using two (2) or more different spellings of the same words in a single document. Before the mid-Eighteenth Century, I also have found the spelling of the Norfleet surname to be very inconsistent in both England and Virginia Colony.

During the Middle Ages, it was customary to use the Latin/French preposition "de" (from) in front of surnames associated with location, as in Master "John de Northflete" (d. 1335) and Master "Thomas de Northflete" (d. 1317). By the end of the Fourteenth Century the use of the "de" preposition was going out of use; from the time of Robert Northflete (c. 1399) forward, the use of the "de" preposition is no longer found in connection with the Norfleet surname.

Many spelling variants were used; in some instances using a "th" as in "Northfleet" and in some instances dropping the "th" as in "Norflete." Sometimes the same name would be spelled in two different ways in the same document; for example, in the Will of Thomas Norfleet (died 1680/1681), Yeoman of Molash, the surname is spelled both as "Norfleete" and "Norfleet." Frequently the surname of the same person would be spelled differently in different documents. For example, John Norfleet (died 1689/1690), Blacksmith of Faversham, is referred to in the Parish Registers as both "Northfleet" and "Northflete," yet he himself signed his name as "Norfleet" on the Bishop's Transcripts which were forwarded under his signature as Churchwarden for the year 1688/1689. The "Norfleet" spelling, of course, is the one most in use in the United States today. However, in earlier times, it was not uncommon for Norfleets of the same family to be referred to by several different spellings of the surname.

First (Christian) Naming Customs of the 17th Century English Norfleets

A preliminary analysis of the first names associated with the Norfleets of England, indicates that "John" and "Thomas" were the names most preferred for Norfleet males throughout the entire period and particularly during the seventeenth century. Both of these names were in common use, along with "William", among the general population throughout the Seventeenth Century, however, not quite to the same degree.

Another naming convention, particularly practiced by the Norfleets in seventeenth century Faversham, was the use of the same first name for a child that had already been given to a previous child, born of the same parents, who had died . This naming practice, probably caused by the high rate of child mortality in those days, might continue for several births, until a child was obtained that lived past infancy. Therefore, not only will you find the frequent use of the names "John" and "Thomas" by different Norfleet families, but you will also find the use of these same names several times by the same parents!

In those few cases where enough information is available, it appears that the seventeenth century Norfleets of Kent usually named their firstborn sons after the father. This appears to be the case with respect to the family of Thomas Norfleet, yeoman of Molash and his youngest son, John Norfleet, blacksmith of Faversham (see family group). It also appears that the same naming convention was used by Thomas Norfleet, shipwright of Faversham (see family group). Conversely, the most prevalent custom in the southern counties of England, and also in colonial Virginia, was to name the firstborn male child after the paternal grandfather. [2]

Very few Colonial Virginia records pertaining to the Norfleets have survived. However, those now extant strongly imply that the first Norfleet to immigrate to Virginia, in about 1666, was named "Thomas" and that he had at least two (2) sons named "John" and "Thomas." Unfortunately, the very frequent use of these same first names among the Norfleets in Seventeenth Century England makes it very difficult to identify the English origin of the first Norfleet in Virginia Colony.

Norfleet Life Expectancy in the 17th Century

Child Mortality

There was a very high rate of child mortality among the Norfleets in Faversham Parish, Kent County in the late Seventeenth Century. John and Katherine Norfleet of Faversham (see family group sheet) had seven (7) children, all of whom died prior to reaching the age of eleven (11) years. Furthermore, Thomas and Elizabeth Norfleet of Faversham (see family group sheet) had eight (8) children, of whom all but one child (Ann), died before reaching seven (7) years of age. This is indeed a high rate of mortality, even for the Seventeenth Century! A review of all the entries in the parish register for Faversham indicate a very high death rate for children during the 1680's and 1690's. Diseases, such as smallpox and typhus, probably are the causes of this lamentable condition. Further research in this area is needed to conclusively establish the etiology.

Adult Life Expectancy

In the 17th and 18th centuries, adult life expectancies were much shorter than we experience today. Typically, women died in their forties (worn out by child-bearing) and men died in their fifties. Except for the women who died as the result of complications experienced during childbirth, most adults of both sexes died of infectious diseases. Few adults lived long enough to develop and die of heart disease and cancer – the chief causes of adult death today. While there is not very much good data regarding the age at death of the 17th and 18th century Norfleets in either England or the colonies, the data which does exist indicates that few of the adults lived past age 55. The following listing shows the approximate age at death for some of these early Norfleets:

Thomas Norfleete (1627-1681), Yeoman of Molash - 54

John Norfleete (1653-1690), Blacksmith of Faversham - 37

Thomas Norfleete (1657-1698), Shipwright of Faversham - 41

John Norfleet (1699-1753) of Chowan County NC - 54

Edward Norfleet (c. 1695-1747) of Nansemond County VA - 52

Christopher Norfleet (c. 1700-1751) of Nansemond County VA - 51

Thomas Norfleet (c. 1694-1746) of Edgecombe County NC - 52

Marmaduke Norfleet (1700-1774) of Northampton County NC - 74

Abraham Norfleet (1728-1784) of Gates County NC - 56

Cordall Norfleet (c. 1735-1788) of Southampton County VA - 53

Of the people cited on the above listing, only the first Marmaduke Norfleet (1700-1774) lived past his fifties, reaching the ripe old age of 74. At the time, this achievement was considered so remarkable that Marmaduke made note of it in the preamble to his will!

English Norfleet Family Relationships

Analysis of the information contained in the above cited English parish registers, marriage licenses and wills permits at least a tentative reconstruction of four Norfleet family groups who lived in Kent during the mid-to-late seventeenth century. Three of these groups resided in the Town of Faversham and the fourth in the Parish of Molash. The heads of family for these groups are:

    1.  John Norfleete, Mariner of Faversham

    2.  Thomas Norfleete, Yeoman of Molash

    3.  John Norfleet, Blacksmith of Faversham

    4.  Thomas Norfleete, Shipwright of Faversham

Analysis of all the available records indicates that at least some of the Norfleets of Chilham, Molash and Faversham were related. Thomas Norfleete, yeoman of Molash appears to be son of John Norfleet of Chilham, and also the father of John Norfleet, blacksmith of Faversham. Also, John Norfleete, mariner of Faversham may be the brother of Thomas, yeoman of Molash. This chart shows a possible relationship between these people.

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Endnotes

1.  David Hey, The Oxford Guide to Family History (1993), page 224.

2.  David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed (1989), pages 308-309.

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