The Corbett One Name Study



Robert Corbett of Massachusetts has been a thorn in my side for several years and perhaps the following will sound as though I am nailing my colours to the mast. This is not intended but one has to ask 'where is the proof that the two men mentioned above are the same man?'  I have asked this question of researchers, who claim this descent, many times, and still await a satisfactory answer!

So many family researchers in the US (I have lost count of exactly how many) have contacted me over more than 20 years asking if, or stating that, Robert is the son of Sir John (created a baronet on 19 Sept 1627) and Anne (Mainwaring) Corbett of Moreton Corbet.

How I wish I had the proof they so dearly want. It is one of the tenets of genealogy that one proves every connection one shows in ones family and if possible, more than once! Finding entries on the IGI is not proof - although many take it to be so! Even that most worthy organisation, the Latter Day Saints, who have done us such a great service by collecting and publishing records, advises us to check the original source before accepting them. How many present day researchers do so?

This description given by almost everyone , ‘of Moreton Corbet’, is incorrect as will be shown now. 

The Moreton Corbet connection of Sir John occurred 3 generations earlier with his great grandfather, Sir Robert of Moreton Corbet 1477-1513 (who married Elizabeth Vernon of Haddon Hall, Derbyshire) and the description ‘of Moreton Corbet’ is not and never was a valid description for the Stoke and Adderley line of which Sir John became the heir on the death of his father in 1601.

The title ‘of Moreton Corbet’ was passed by the above Sir Robert of Moreton Corbet (1477-1513) to his son Roger circa 1501-38 who married Anna Windsor. Roger’s younger brother, Reginald (circa 1512-66) (who married Alice Gratewood) became ‘of Stoke, Adderley and Edgmond ‘ and his son Richard 1564-1601 (who married Ann Bromley) inherited the title ‘of Stoke‘ and was Sir John’s father. (Visitation of Shropshire 1623)

Many people have written to the Shropshire CRO asking for proof of the connection (so many that I guess they must be getting tired of receiving enquiries on the subject) between this Robert of Stoke and Adderley, the latter being the place he was baptised, and Robert of Massachusetts. All have been disappointed by the reply they received for no proof has surfaced yet either in England or the United States. Robert of Adderley, as with some of his older brothers, disappears after his baptism.

Because there were so many children in Sir John’s family the story becomes a little complicated at times but I trust that you will stay with me to the end because your views on the matter are most welcome.

Sir John and Anne (Mainwaring) Corbet of Stoke & Adderley were said to have had 10 sons and 10 daughters and this is shown on Anne’s tomb at Market Drayton. She died in 1682.

It does not change the situation a great deal but I have found another child who appears to have been overlooked. Michael appears on the Oxford University Roll (see note at end) along with his brother, later known also as Sir John of Stoke and Adderley (who married Letitia Knollys). If he was another child of the family then there were 21 children altogether and not 20. Michael, so far as I am aware, has never appeared as a child of this family before. (Unless, of course, you know better.)

The inscription on Anne's (Mainwaring) tomb states that 17 children grew to be men and women and 3 died before adulthood. These 3 children were not named. Was another deceased child overlooked at the time the inscription was written? After all both she and her husband were dead by then. I suggest the (unproved) possibility that 4 not 3 children died before becoming adults. It is much easier to overlook children who died close to birth than it is those who lived into adulthood. However whichever is correct it makes little difference to the final position of who lived and who died.

It is known that all ten daughters (each of whom married) and seven sons survived into adulthood. The names of the known six sons who survived were Michael, John, Vincent, Arthur, George and Henry. They either married, lived to at least 16 years of age (and yes, I know that in Michael's case living to age 16 is not proof he survived to adulthood but it implies the possibility and is stronger proof than just a baptism date), or are known to have been alive after 1663. Arthur was living in 1663 according to the probate of a brother’s will. The other four lived long enough to marry.

This leaves Richard, Reginald, Humphrey, Rowland and Robert with Humphrey and Rowland, known to have died within a few years of birth.

The three remaining who are unaccounted for then are Richard bap 17 September 1622 Childs Ercall, Reginald bap 1632 Adderley and Robert Corbett bap on 21 Feb 1640 also at Adderley. Two of these sons therefore died before reaching adulthood. But which of them? Any help in this direction would be most welcome.

A E Corbett, (who is not always to be relied on) in her book The Family of Corbet shows that Robert of Adderley baptised in 1640 died without issue. She also shows the following children as ‘ob. s.p.’ (died without issue) Vincent, Richard, George, Reginald, Humphrey, Roland, Arthur. She cites no authority for classifying them thus. One cannot absolutely rely on her words - she also shows 21 children for this family amongst whom two are Anne’s and one a Jane but no mention is made of Michael. There was in fact only one Anne (who married Nathaniel Desborough) and one Jane (who married Robert Anstruther). AEC shows the second Anne marrying Robert Anstruther which is incorrect. All ten daughters of Sir John and Anne reached adulthood and married.

Returning to Robert of Massachusetts a researcher wrote to me recently ‘In The Corbett Family in England and America by Henry R Corbett: it says ‘Little is known about Robert Corbett except that he fought bravely in King Philip's War (Savage's Dictionary of the Early Settlers in New England, Vol. I. Page 457)’ This war ended in 1676. He continues ‘A quote from "History of the Town of Milford" (Mass) says: ‘Corbett, Robert is the first of this name known in these parts.’
'Robert became interested in the settlement at Woodstock, now in Connecticutt, but then in Massachusetts. The town was originally known as New Roxbury because many of its early settlers were from Roxbury, Mass. Sometime before 1691 Robert went to live there and he is recorded as having purchased a homestead.’

As I have said whenever anyone contacts me about Robert of Massachusetts they always identify him as Robert of Moreton Corbet and I have explained why this designation for him is incorrect. However whatever identity one gives him this does not alter the fact that there is no proof of a connection between the two.

I should add that I have made an extensive search of all my records and have found nothing to suggest that Robert baptised 1640 at Adderley (not Moreton Corbet) is the same Robert of Massachusetts.

Despite this I have seen it recorded on many family trees as though it has been proved the two men are the same person and this unproved connection is also shown on many records I have come across on the Internet including some deposited with the Latter Day Saints.

I have been informed it originated with a genealogist in London who sent it to Melvyn Corbett in the States in 1955. Melvyn Corbett published it in a small monograph he wrote about the descendants of Robert. He sent a copy to the Family History Library - and from there it has spread, and been asserted, with no known proof.

The LDS is not responsible for the claims made by researchers who deposit details of their ancestry with them however just appearing in their records etc. gives the information some gravity. Because someone has said it is so, however, does not make it so but many researchers appear to take anything written down or published on the ‘net as the absolute proven, documented truth and do not make any attempt to prove a connection.

It would be interesting to discover how this connection between Robert of Massachusetts and Robert of Moreton Corbet (or to be correct ‘of Adderley’) came about because no-one I have asked has ever been able to tell me.

One of the researchers mentioned earlier wrote ‘Are you familiar with a Mr. Charles Gleason of California? He lists my Robert Corbett as being born in England abt 1640 and death September 18 1695 in Weymouth, Massachusetts, his parents [are shown] as John Corbet and Anne Mainwaring, his spouses as Abigail Lovet (abt.1690) and Priscilla Rockwood in Weymouth on Feb. 23, 1684/85. The file lists 'notes and sources' as being available on cd-rom. This is the LDS site and I will have to send them $8 USD to purchase the cd. I have tried to contact Mr.Gleason via email to find out his sources, but no luck.’ It would be interesting to know exactly what authority Mr Gleason quotes on the cd which proves them to be the same person. If the proof was there surely no one would be continuing to ask for proof.

Whenever I find a website on the Internet which claims a connection between the two Roberts I send a polite email asking for proof of the connection. I have received very few replies and I have no doubt this is because most have not asked for proof but have taken someone else’s word for it and only when asked do they study the statement and find they stand (frimly unfortunately) on a bed of clay.

Many, when asked, say they have seen it on the Ancestral file on the LDS website. Typical of the replies are ‘What I have in my website on Rootsweb (or some other genealogical host) on the Corbett line is from the Ancestral File. In all probability there were notes attached to these persons when the data was submitted, however when it is entered into Ancestral File, all notes are stripped from the gedcom that are submitted. If you find any proof, could you let me know? I just got the Pedigree Resource CD's, I hope that the family group sheet for this family will be there along with the notes. I have yet to look at it’ and another ‘I have found info connecting Robert to previous Corbetts back through to Hugh Corbeau/Corbet, but have not been able to verify any of this yet. .... Robert Corbet ... was born about 1640 in Moreton Corbet, Shropshire ...’ whereupon the line is then shown from Robert of Massachusetts back to the earliest Norman Corbet. This, I am sure you will agree, is totally unsatisfactory! If not then why are we wasting our time searching for authentication of our own research? Perhaps, by this method, I can claim a descent from a variety of notable people!!

On the family trees these researchers show the connection as being definite (nowhere does the word ‘possibly’ or ‘unproved’ appear) and many who are researching the same family take the connection as certain. So that which in reality has no substance is passed on as proof and now people are believing and accepting it.

There are hundreds of Robert of Massachusetts descendants living today who are convinced they are descended from Corbet of Boitron, Pays d'Auge, the Norman Corbet who died about 1076.Wishful thinking I’m afraid. It is so easy to accept something written down as proof positive. I would be very pleased to see the proof because it would end this search which has occasioned much correspondence over several years. I would really like to be able to reply to those who contact me with ‘Yes, they are the same man and here is proof positive’. In truth, I cannot.

At last though I can see a little light at the end of the tunnel because the same investigative and most helpful researcher mentioned earlier has written this week ‘I've run across a couple of pages which claim that Robert Corbett was born in Woodstock, Ct. USA and married Priscilla Rockwood, source 'The Descendants of Philander Chase' by Richard Flinn in 1991. This is the only one I've found and states a birth place other than Moreton Corbet, no parents are listed. Another page lists Robert C marriage to Priscilla Rockwood, source 'Interconnecting Bloodlines and Genetic Inbreeding in a Colonial Puritan Community: Eastern Massachusetts, 1630-1885'.
Hm! Curiouser and curiouser. In all the correspondence I have received I have never heard a mention of Richard Flinn, his book or the suggestion that Robert was born in Woodstock, which is very strange with so many searching for the truth of the matter. Is this because some choose to ignore that which does not agree with what they want to believe? It may be that Richard Flinn also has no proof but why place the value of one persons word above the other? Is this the way genealogical research should be carried out?

I have found at least 3 Robert Corbetts born in England during the 1640’s who could equally be considered as a suitable fit for Robert of Massachusetts who died in 1695 possibly aged 55. (I have no knowledge of where his age at death is shown because no one has supplied me with the details!). As genealogists well know the age at death can not always be relied on since the person concerned cannot verify it. Proof of age during their life is needed.

I have not heard of anyone carrying out any research on any of the following three Roberts or any suggestion that any of them could be Robert of Massachusetts. Indeed when I put forward these names the correspondence goes strangely quiet!
1: Robert bap 6 Jan 1641 at Sibdon Carwood, Shropshire son of William and Mary
2: Robert bap 23 Dec 1645 probably at Shepshed, Leicestershire, son of Francis and Joan or Jane
3: Robert bap 13 Jan 1644 at Oddington, Oxfordshire son of John and Elizabeth.

Brother Vincent’s Will of 1654:
Robert’s brother, Vincent (a Captain of a troop of Horse in 5th West India Regiment under the command of General Venables and Colonel Anthony Buller) wrote a will in 1654 and died ‘in parts beyond the seas’ in the same year. It was not probated at that time but in the year following the death of Sir John, his father (and the father of Robert of 1640), in 1662.

Probate of his will was challenged by some of his siblings in 1663. These were Ann bap 1626 and unmarried, Alice bap 1628 and unmarried, Magdalene bap 1630 and unmarried, Dorothy born bef 1635 and unmarried, Arthur born circa 1636, Henry bap 1637. Robert bap 1640 is not mentioned. This, to me, seems quite significant!

One has to ask why these 6 children challenged probate. It is noticeable that none of the females who did so were married at the time which suggests that those who were still dependants of their father felt they had some interest in Vincent’s portion of his father's estate.

Many eminent genealogists have studied the records of the various Norman/Corbet lines and none have ever suggested the possibility of Robert having survived to childhood.

There are several books which contain genealogical information about Shropshire families in the British Museum which might throw a little light on this subject. Due to the excessive charges made by Cornwall County Council for ordering books through the library service I am unable to afford to order them. Perhaps one day someone will make a study of the manuscripts (if this has not already been done) deposited to try to discover whether they mention about the children of this Corbet/Mainwaring family and if the give a hint that Robert baptised in Adderley in 1640 lived beyond childhood.

However until I am shown proof that he did survive I shall remain a sceptic and the parentage of Robert of Massachusetts, in my records, will still be identified as unknown. Of course if you know differently ........

Oxford University Roll 1500-1714: Michael Corbett, son of John, of Adderley, SAL, baronet, Magdalene Hall, matric. 4 Nov 1636 aged 16; brother of John of same date.

Oxford University Roll 1500-1714: Corbett (Sir) John, s. of John of Adderley, Salop, baronet. ST ALBAN HALL, matric. 25 Nov 1636 aged 16; and baronet, M.P. Bishops Castle circa Dec 1645 till 1653 (L.P.), a Rumper 1659, one of the commissioners on the trial of the king, but did not act, buried 22 Feb 1664-5, brother of Michael of same date. See Foster's Parliamentary Dictionary.

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