The Blacker Epic Chapter 2

Clutton's Blackers

Clutton, Somersetshire, where family records take us to our first known home of our ancestors, is on the outskirts of a great industrial area to its north. The little town was reported in 1833, to have had a population of 1,287, certainly a small town by the average town-size in England. Within the town, other than the Church of England chapel, was, at that time, also a Methodist chapel and an Independent chapel such as, perhaps, a community chapel.

Clutton is about eight to ten miles south and slightly to the east of Bristol, which is inland a few miles on the River Avon, which empties into the Bristol Channel and therefore, allows the tide to back up the river making it for several miles a navigable river. Bristol is one of the great ports of south England, in fact, all of England.

Even before one reaches Clutton from Bristol, the countryside opens up into probably the most pastoral areas of modern-day England. In fact, it remains one of a few areas of England where farming is still possible due to the dense concentration of population. The population exists through all of England, excepting again to the extreme north of England where there remains considerable open, but hilly areas. These are more suitable for cattle than the actual farm land such as exists particularly, in Somersetshire, Devonshire and Cornwall of southwest England. The raising of sheep, barley and apples is prominent in Somersetshire. There has been considerable coal mining in Somersetshire as, also, a limited amount of manufacturing of woolen and silken goods.

There appears to have been at least two separate families of Blackers in the little village of Clutton, even from the first records of the parish. The parish records commenced in 1693, however, the first Blacker entries do not show up until a christening in 1695 - on the 24th of January. The next and only other Blacker entry in that year is a burial on August 20th of a George Blacker. It is most regrettable that the first available marriage entry in the parish is not until 1757. Almost without question it would seem that 64 years of marriage records have been lost and, sadly, of critical years so far as our family records are concerned. Neither of the two above entries appear to be of our family lineage, at least, if they are, further research on our part will have to be done.

A question has been dealt with in all of our Blacker research as to whether the Blackers of Clutton could have a connection to the Blackers of Yorkshire, or to the Blackers of Ireland or, perhaps, do they have a connection with the Blackers of Wiltshire, referred to at the end of the previous chapter? All three of those families have older backgrounds than what we have found in Clutton. The reader can expect comments concerning this to crop out on occasion as we proceed with our story. During the years, contacts have been made with Blacker families with no known relationship, as well as with others of distant relationship. The story becomes quite involved and every attempt will be made to keep clear the several involvements.

First, let me relate an early personal involvement: In February of 1930, following my release from my mission in Birmingham, England, I obtained permission from the mission president to visit relatives in Wales, of which more will be told at a subsequent point in this history. Following that visit of four or five days, I returned by way of Bristol from where I took a thirty minute train ride to Clutton, which was but a small village. Here I inquired for anyone by the name of Blacker, for I was aware there should be distant relatives there. With this writing being over fifty years following my visit, many details have now been lost to memory, however, I had been informed by Uncle William, back in Wales that very morning of his cousin, a Mary Blacker Tiley who was living there. Surprisingly, it was her door on which I first knocked, and with whom I visited.

My schedule was to return to Bristol by a certain hour in order to catch a train for Birmingham where I still had my residence. It was probably two o'clock at the time I arrived in Clutton. This Mary's mother was also named Mary, a sister of my great-grandfather, John Blacker. The mother had married a man from Dublin, Ireland, and the daughter with whom I visited, was raised by others of the family, of whom more will subsequently be written.

While visiting with Mary, she told me of a Frederick Blacker, who lived down the street a block or two and who operated The F. Blacker & Son Monumental Sculptors business ( cutting headstones for cemeteries and other such work). She said that he was a distant relative, but who could be of more assistance to me so far as family records were concerned.

The Blacker Monumental Works Clutton, England

Calling at Frederick Blacker's home, to my great disappointment, he was out of town for the day. His son, Charles, probably a year or two older than I, and still living at home, invited me to go with him to the nearby Clutton churchyard where we found some of the family gravestones. I copied the information from the stones, which related to us. After spending perhaps an hour in the church yard, and, without being able to get into the church itself, due to its being locked, we returned and I made connections with a scheduled train - the last of the afternoon - for Bristol and from there I returned to Birmingham.

I have always been grateful, even for such a brief visit to Clutton and Wales. More will be written of these visits. From this visit to Clutton I subsequently became acquainted with this Frederick, a distant relative, with whom I corresponded for several years following my visit.

In a letter from Frederick, written as late as during the war years, which letter was considerably cut up by the censor, a paragraph was undisturbed in which he reported a R. (Rowland) Blacker, 43 Pine Crescent, Toronto, Canada, "Who represents Pitman's Short Hand work there, who was at his late father's funeral at Stratton-on-the-Foss two years ago." (Eight to ten miles south of Clutton. L.B.) The date of this letter from Frederick was not given on the letter, whether unintentional on his part, or whether it was with the parts of the letter cut out by the censors, is not known. The 24th of November was included, which seemingly, would be in the year 1940 for it was during the night air raids of the London Blitz. More will be reported of these hardships later in this story.

Receiving the above letter with the name of the Canadian Blacker, I wrote a letter to him as to what he knew of the Blacker family in Clutton. We were living in Evanston, Wyoming, at the time. Along with his letter was the following account. This was an account written by Rowland's uncle, John Evans Blacker of Clutton, while in bed with the gout on the 10th of January 1881:

"Our family runs in this way. In the first place, we are supposed to be Irish, but as far as we can go back, there were three brothers who left Stokelane (Stoke Lane or Stoke as the Gazetteer gives it, is a small parish of fewer than a thousand people about ten miles south of Clutton. L.B.) but went to Midsomer Norton (four to five miles south of Clutton or halfway between Stoke Lane and Clutton. L.B.). One resided at Farrington Gurney (about three miles west of Midsomer Norton, but about the same distance from Clutton as is Norton. L.B.) and the other came to Clutton about the year 1680. His name was Nicholas Blacker. He is buried at Clutton. (Between 1693 - the first entry in the Clutton parish - and 1850 there is but a single burial entry for a Nicholas Blacker and that is dated 10 Sep. 1707 and without doubt is this first Nicholas.) A baby, Nicholas Blacker, was christened 1 Jun 1720 and was listed as the son of Thomas and Ann Blacker. (This very well could be a grandson of the first Nicholas. L.B.)

"He (the first Nicholas of 1680) had one son by the name of Tobias Blacker. I do not know how many more he had in family. Tobias had two children, a son and a daughter - George and Mary. Mary married Mr. Sherborne and she is buried at Clutton. The son, George, was a butcher. He married Mary Parfitt of Clutton. He built his house and lived here. He kept Bathe market and died there suddenly. He and his wife are buried in the family vault. They left two children, a son and a daughter, both born in this house. The daughter, Almira, married a Mr. Tucker. She is buried at Blackwood in Wales. The son's name was George Blacker. He married Mary Shelstone, a lady's maid who was also bridesmaid to Lady Hipsley at Stone Easton. Her father was steward on the Hipsley estate. They were natives of Cludley in Devonshire. They died at North End farm and were buried in the family vault in Clutton. They had one son born in this house. His name was George Blacker and he married Lucy Evans from near Robert Hills at Paulton (between two and three miles southeast of Clutton. L.B.). She was an orphan. Her father and mother died at Priston near Bath. (Actually Priston is but five miles east and slightly north of Clutton whereas Bath is nine to ten miles further northeast, therefore about half way between Clutton and Bath which in and of itself is a city of about 80,000 people - actually it is classified as a town rather than a city for it does not have a cathedral which is a requirement in England as a status for a city. L.B.). George and Lucy Blacker had seven children born and reared in this house, Sarah, George, William, Hephzibah, John Evans, Thermulthus and Henry. George and Lucy lived in this house now called the Railway Inn, until I, John Evans, was married. They both died at the Bathe Farm and were buried in the family vault. I, John, born 1st October 1841 and married on 14th May 1870 at the St. Thomas Church to Hannah Evans, third daughter of John and Anne Evans of Black House farm, Tregare, Monmouthshire.

"George, my eldest brother, married Sarah Matthews of Stowey (2 1/2 miles west of Clutton. L.B.) on the 23rd of June 1858 and sailed for Australia on the next day."

This George, a brother of the John from whom we are presently quoting, and his wife, Sarah Matthews, has a large posterity, a branch with whom I have been in correspondence and have obtained considerable family records. My contact with them came about in an interesting manner, which story I might now relate from my personal history, actually from a separate compilation which I chose to title, "MIRACLES, NEAR MIRACLES AND OTHER FAITH PROMOTING INCIDENTS IN MY LIFE", page 21 with the incident being titled, "A Name From Far Off Australia":

"We owned and operated a furniture and appliance store which was located on the main street of downtown Ontario, Oregon. It was summer time of the year 1950.

"One warm afternoon there came into the store a young lady whom, as I recall, may have been about twenty-four or twenty-five years of age. As I approached her, I could see that she appeared to have sensed the fact that she might be in the wrong store. I inquired of her wishes, following my welcoming her to the store and she inquired for something in the line of cosmetics, such as hand lotion or some such item. which certainly was not in the lines of merchandise we had in the store. I called her attention to a drug store across the street where she would most likely find what she was looking for.

"As she spoke, I readily recognized her English accent. Having served a mission over twenty years prior to that date in England, my first thought upon hearing her was that she must have been from England and asked her from what part of England she had come. She advised that she was from Australia and in our resulting conversation she related how she had met a young U.S. soldier who was stationed in Australia following World War II and that they were to be married. She was then on her way to his home somewhere in Idaho, if I recall the place.

"Ontario was on her route and she stated that her bus had stopped at the bus depot just a block and a half away where the bus passengers were eating. She felt she had time to visit a nearby store for some lotion and still get back before the bus left. We visited for just a very few minutes near the front of the store. As she walked out the door I wished her the best of luck in her travels and her future and I returned to the back of the store to the office area where I had work to do. I never asked the lady her name. Of course I had never seen her before nor have I seen her since, nor can I now picture her identity in my mind - she was but a normal person like one meets most any day.

"I spent another couple hours in the store before closing for the evening, during which time I would have had several other customers come and go.

"The next morning, as was customary for me to do, I took the oil mop and proceeded to dust the hardwood floor, starting from the front of the store and worked toward the rear. Small items of soil, paper, or any other foreign item was pushed ahead of the mop. As I brushed past the spot where the lady of the previous day and I had visited, I noticed I was pushing a small piece of paper that was folded, but not crumpled, as were the other bits of paper which were already rolling along with the mop. For a stroke or two this flat piece of paper - no writing on the top - stubbornly clung to the floor letting the mop pass over it, thus bringing it more clearly to my attention. I stooped to pick it up and as I did I noticed that it was a double page of a small ruled notebook.

"As I unfolded it, I noticed there were a few names and addresses of people, all of whom lived in Australia. Also, from the handwriting I detected it had to belong to the Australian lady of the previous day. I was literally astonished to find that the middle name of the three which were on the side of the double sheet opened to me was, Mrs. J.E. Blacker, Avalon, Peden St., Bega. I opened the double sheet and found on both sides of the remaining sheet were additional names and addresses. The name of Mrs. Blacker was of special interest, for I had spent many years searching for genealogy and had understood from a record in the old family Bible, which I saw when visiting my great-uncle William Blacker in Wales in 1930 that some Blackers - not our direct line - had left Clutton for Australia as well as to America, but no addresses where available. Other than this Bible statement, I had a consciousness in the back of my mind that there were Blackers in Australia. By this time I had forgotten the specifics that twenty years earlier - 1940 - I had received a letter from a Rowland Blacker of Canada stating that he had relatives in Australia. Because his family was not on our direct line of research, I had filed his letter away at the time and didn't have his letter in my working file. Even at the time of finding this Australian address, I didn't recall the information being in my inactive file.

"I wrote to Mrs. J.E. Blacker and in her letter back to me, she reported that her husband's grandfather, on his wedding day about 1850, took his bride of that day on board a ship and sailed for Australia and that their original English home was in the little town of Clutton. While we have not proven exact relationship to them, there is no question but that they are of the same stock. I have been able to have gathered many family group sheets of these relatives which I never would have been able to have done had it not have been that the Australian girl left a little piece of paper where I could find it.

"Some people may say that it was just coincidental that the girl came into the store but I ask, why of all the places between Australia and her intended destination did she have to lose that little paper in Ontario? Why did she go into an appliance store for hand lotion? When the piece of paper fluttered to the floor, which it must have done, why didn't either she or me notice it fall? Had we noticed it I would have picked it up and returned it to her. Why was the little piece of paper so stubborn to move along the floor when I was cleaning the floor? Had it gone along like most of the other clutter I would have swept it onto a dust pan and thrown it into the waste paper basket.

"I can't believe that it was all an accident for there were too many alternatives. The Lord knew that I had, for years, been searching for my kinfolk and praying for information which would lead me to them. To me this was nothing more nor less than an answer to a prayer - to many prayers. This was a natural way for the lord to answer a prayer, nevertheless, it was done in a miraculous way.

"I suspect I shall never know the girl from Australia who came all that way to unknowingly give me a clue to further my genealogical research work. She was, literally, as an angel from heaven bringing aid to a genealogical researcher."

After I had received letters for a few years from Mrs. J.E. Blacker, who became the sole correspondent for the Australian family, I formed a pedigree chart for the family which included a little of the information I had already filed away from Rowland Blacker of Canada. Rowland's father, Henry, was a brother of George who left for Australia. George's son, John, was the husband of the lady whose name was on the slip of paper of the story above, therefore Rowland of Canada to whom I wrote on several occasions and received answers, was a cousin of Beatrice to whom I wrote and received answers to several letters from Australia.

These families' earliest known ancestor was the Nicholas who traveled to Clutton in 1680 after dropping off two brothers who stopped in different towns five to ten miles before he reached his destination. We have never found the names of these two brothers, at least, to recognize them as such. Our earliest known ancestor as of this writing is a William, but nothing of him is known, not even that he ever lived in Clutton. The earliest ancestor of our line on whom we have information is another William, the son of the last mentioned William. To keep this story of the Clutton Blackers as well organized as possible, let us put a 'hold' on him, a direct ancestor born about 1683, and share with the reader the available information gathered thru the years of the undoubtedly, allied family of Australia and then Canada.

Why I had waited as long as I did before writing to Australia, I don't know. I put the address away and pondered over the incidence, but it must have been three to four years after the young lady from Australia dropped her sheet of Australian addresses, before I wrote to Mrs. John E. Blacker making my first inquiry as to their genealogy. Her answer in longhand and on ruled paper is as follows:

Avalon Peden St.
N.S.W. (New South Wales)

My Dear Loyn,

We are related I'm sure, so I will give you your Christian name. Yes, Jack's father came from England. His name was George Blacker. He married a girl named Sarah Matthews just before sailing from England to Australia. We will tell you all we know later.

Just at present my husband is away having a holiday with his daughter and son-in-law at Bemboka. He is John Evans Blacker and he was the third son of George. George the eldest son passed away when only 26 years of age and Oswell Blacker passed on in his 64th year. I think it was George (I should think he would be your great uncle) (She was in error on this supposition for she had to be thinking of her husband's father. L.B.) had 11 children, 8 girls and 3 sons and now only Jack (her husband, John. L.B.) is living. He is 78 on 16th of Sep. and up till New Year's day he worked on his farm - really the old family homestead. Now our eldest son lives on it, he is 44 years old with wife and 3 children. (I have learned since this son's name is Stanley. L.B.) Jack and I had five, two boys and three girls. All our family are married with children of their own. The day after New Year's day Jack was riding after cows and never noticed a limb of a tree and he was pulled off his horse and ever since he is in town with us, it hurt his knee and really it gave him a shock. It took a while to get over and he went out to Joy's (their daughter) for a while this week and I'm thinking of going out tomorrow for a little while. My youngest daughter and son-in-law and their only child lives with us. (She would here have reference to their daughter, Theloy. L.B.) Kay, (grandson. L.B.) is only 2 years old last Boxing Day (Dec. 26th. L.B.)

Some years ago there was a letter written to a Mr. Blacker, Bega and Muriel Blacker (a niece. L.B.) got the letter (it should have come to Jack.) It was from a Mr. Rowland Blacker. We wrote but never got an answer but Muriel, that is Oswald's eldest girl (Oswald is Jack's brother. L.B.). She said she often had a letter. We think our letter may never have reached Rowland as the war was very bad at the time. We gave his address to Jack Burgess (a friend. L.B.) who was in America in the air force. He called to see them and did enjoy their company.

Really I was thrilled to get your letter and I'm sure Jack will be so pleased to get more news of the family. I know there was a William and Henry and I fancy a Charlie but I can't remember now. (She was correct in that her husband had an uncle, William and an Uncle Henry, but there appears no Charlie. L.B.) Jack always wished to go for a trip to meet some of his father's people but we never could afford a trip. I fancy William was the eldest of them. George, my father-in-law (first immigrant. L.B.) passed away at 74. We had the history of the family written out and sent from England and Jack's sister took the letter to answer it and we never got it back, sorry to say. That was Mabel. She was married to John Otton. They both passed on years ago and I fancy some of the family have the letter. If I ever get it I'll send it along to you. (Before Beatrice died her son, Stan, obtained a copy of the short history and had it photo-copied and mailed it on. This was an exact copy of the short history I had received years before from Rowland Blacker of Canada. L.B.)

I must not write much as I wish to send this by air mail and I do hope you answer it. No doubt you will get a letter from my eldest son, Stanley, when he reads your letter because he and all of ours, are very family minded and would love to know all about the Blacker family. I'm wondering who the lady was that dropped the address. If when you write and you have the other addresses and send along I may know who the woman was. (This I did but I never learned whether she knew the young lady or not. L.B.)

I will close hoping to get a letter very soon. Very gratefully yours,
Beatrice Blacker

Correspondence was carried on for several years until Beatrice had to turn over her writing to her son, Stanley, who was such a great help in making up a pedigree chart from his grandfather, George, the immigrant. George and his English wife, Sarah Matthews had eleven children - 3 boys and 8 girls - of course, all in Australia. Beatrice, in her subsequent letters provided me with the names of these eleven children and the years of their births as well as the names of those whom they married.

Subsequently, Stanley provided me with the names of their children and grandchildren, which were close by and gave me names and address of others who were at a distance from him. In a letter I have on file - a copy - dated 11 October 1963 (note this is nine years following my first letter to the family) I copy a comment I wrote as I now review the material from Australia. I was writing to Stan for even additional information:

I certainly appreciate the chart you worked out. It certainly took a lot of time, I am sure, but it was so helpful. To me a family chart draws a much plainer picture of the family than anything else. One can see at a glance the relationship of all members of the family to any other. Thanks ever so much. I have placed each marriage on a separate sheet with the husband and wife and their children forming a family group. Do you realize that I now have fifty family groups from your chart? Etc. etc."

Stanley provided several names of cousins mainly scattered over Australia and in several instances I have received information and very friendly responses. A great regret is that probably the last date of any of their letters was 1965. Very likely it is due to my failure to continue writing. At least there has been no correspondence for years, but we corresponded sufficient to know that there are a good many people I would be proud to claim relationship to if such can ever be done.

Of interest is a copy of an affidavit of the marriage of Stanley's grandfather and grandmother, the first immigrant couple of which we are aware of the Clutton Blackers to Australia.

"THIS IS TO CERTIFY that George Blacker of Clutton was married to Sarah Matthews of Stowey both of Somersetshire, England. They were married at Stowey on 23rd June 1858 by Mr. Haynes. They left the next day for Liverpool where they emigrated to Australia in the ship "Gold Conda". After a long passage of one-hundred and twenty days (120) they landed in Sydney spending the first two years at Parramatta where Mr. Blacker worked for the Trustees of the Parramatta Park. They then came to Bega in the year 1861 spending the first seven years on the farm known as Webb's farm, now owned by Mr. Manning. After spending several years in the district they took up their abode at Woodstock where they spent the remainder of their days. Mr. Blacker prided himself with always leading a sober and industrious life never being plaintiff or defendant in a court. "They reared 11 children, 8 girls and 3 boys: Amy, Mary, George James, Sarah Lucy, Emma Matthews, Jane Kate, Oswald Henry, Maud Georgina, Mabel Shelston, John Evans, Alice Esther, Edith Ada. "The children's mother died at the farm, Woodstock, May 17th, 1903, and was buried in the old Cemetery, Bega. Their father died at his son's (Oswald) place on 24th June 1908 and was also buried in the old cemetery, Bega." A note at the bottom of the above affidavit reads of the above mentioned two burials, "Since removed to the Bega cemetery, also George James", interpreted probably meaning also the body of George was removed. (L.B.)

Regrettably, even to this writing (1982) positive relationship, as has been noted, has not been proven. When John E. Blacker, as he was 'lying in bed suffering from rheumatic gout' as he termed it on the 10th of January 1881 and wrote the very brief Blacker history of his family wherein he says, "...there were three brothers who left Stokelane but went to Midsomer Norton: One resided at Farrington Gurney and the other came to Clutton about the year 1860." For fear I misunderstood or misquoted, the above quotation is directly from the brief history sent to me by Rowland Blacker of the earlier generation, (I have corresponded with two Rowland Blackers, one an uncle, naturally the other a nephew). The earlier correspondence was with the earlier generation and it was he from whom the story came.

As reported earlier, Stanley Blacker of Australia mailed a copy of the same history they had to us in about 1963 - Rowland's was in 1940. The above short quotation is identical in both reports. My simple complaint with the story is that three Blackers left Stokelane and traveled four miles to Midsomer Norton and then continued west ward and a little north not over two miles to Farrington Gurney where one set up residence, and the other continued directly northward probably no more than two miles to Clutton - this being Nicholas. He, actually, only accounted for two and regrettably, apparently did not know the other brothers' names. If one of them was a William, it would probably solve our problem for two of our farthest ancestors on our direct line had the name William. Our earliest William had a son, William, about 1683, providing he was a little past his mid twenties when his first child, Tobias, who probably died as a child was born which, during those years was very likely.

This far away in history - just over 300 years from 1680 to 1982 - one can hardly make a fair appraisal of the actual living conditions of these ancestors. We are not positive of all our ancestor's occupations - a few we know - but we are sure that raising a family and surviving were not easy for any of them.

At the time of which we are referring - 1680 and following - there lived in England five main social classes and we can be assured the great majority of our ancestors had no part in the first three, and possibly not even in the fourth. The first social class - this of course under royalty - were known as the peers - these were noblemen, descendants of ancient well-to-do families, offspring of royalty or royal favorites. Group #2, the gentry; these were the knights of the shires who lived off the rents of their land. Group #3, the lawyers, the merchants and professional men and teachers, etc. Group #4, the yeomen farmers, and Group #5, the common people most of whom would be laborers which, it is estimated, comprised at least three quarters of the total population. Attention may be called to the fact that to be in this lower economic strata during these centuries, didn't mean necessarily that every individual lacked a good genetic background or that their living standards had always been on a low poverty level.

Attention has already been pointed out of the effects of the law of primogeniture. In many instances the children of land-owning classes, unless they happened to qualify as being the oldest son, were literally put out into the world to fend for themselves. Within this #5 category some would have had a limited advantage of serving apprenticeships to become artisans, who later found reasonably good employment, considering the times, with factory owners or other places of the limited industry of the day. At best, most employment for category #5 was rather menial.

Coal mining, thru the centuries, has always created employment and, certainly, most of it in these centuries was, indeed, menial and for low pay. For two or three of our later generations prior to immigrating to America were employed in the 'pits', as the deep tunnels were called. A few reached supervisory employment as shall later be shown.

Other types of possible employment could be found in agriculture for which Somersetshire was noted. Perhaps work was found by family members in the woolen manufacturing trade, which existed in Somerset. Iron and copper mining was quite extensive in the area and transportation has always been needed thru the years. The coal had to be moved from the mouth of the mine to wherever it was used. Inland, coal was transported, as also other types of goods on man-made canals. Barges loaded with freight were pulled by horses from the banks of the canals. From one to four-horse carts took freight to and from the barges, to factories where coal was used, or even to ocean-going vessels. There was alot of manual labor for all types of work such as road building, particularly over areas where heavy loads were hauled. Cobble stone streets were in vogue and much hand labor was required to haul the stones to the road and much more labor to place the stones.

Food had to be raised on the farms and in the gardens. Many masonry buildings were constructed and brick was in much demand. As will be noted later, for a couple of early generations, the well over two hundred year old masonry business now in Clutton was operated by our own ancestral line. Hard work was plentiful and it appears the Blackers did their share.