Ancestor of the month

Joseph Sage

On the 26th of April 1772, Hannah Sage of Yatton, Somerset made the journey to her parish church to attend the burial of her husband Samuel. On the same day, Samuel's last child Joseph Sage was baptized. It was not a promising start, but Joseph's life was long and had a profound influence on his descendants for at least four following generations.

Hannah was left with five children to care for, and without a breadwinner in the family, life was hard. Samuel's funeral was paid for by the parish, and the overseers of the poor immediately began making relief payments to the family too. In 1772 and 1773, regular relief to Hannah and her children amounted to 20s. per month, with additional sums being paid "in necessity". By 1774, payments were being reduced; probably the eldest two children (Samuel and Arthur) were placed out in parish apprenticeships at this time. Also in 1774, Hannah was delivered of illegitimate twin girls, Sarah and Hannah, both of whom died within a week of their baptisms. Once again, the parish was called on for support and spent considerably more on the infants' funeral than they paid the midwife who attended their birth. In 1775, Hannah herself died leaving her remaining children entirely dependent on the parish.

Joseph was now aged 3. Along with his elder sister Mary and brother James, he was supported by the poor laws at the increased rate of 24s per month for the three children. The payments on behalf of Joseph continued until 1780 when he was 8 years old, and was placed in a parish apprenticeship with Arthur Hewlett of Wick St Lawrence. Arthur Hewlett held land in Yatton and thereby had an obligation to take such apprentices. If Joseph served his apprenticeship in Wick, he would become the responsibility of that parish. No doubt the overseers who paid Mr Hewlett £2 to take Joseph, breathed a sigh of relief that their obligations to support him were within sight of an end.

We lose sight of Joseph's life while he was in Wick, but he served his full apprenticeship there until he was 21 years old, probably working as a labourer on Mr Hewlett's farm land. Once he was 21 he moved to Nailsea, where he and his descendents would remain for three generations. Joseph found employment as a day labourer in the Nailsea coal mines, and this became his regular employment for the next 45 years. These mines were mostly archaic in their methods of working and remote from good transport but the opening of the Nailsea glassworks provided a ready local market for fuel and led to expansion of the workings.

Joseph had probably moved to Nailsea in order to join his brother Samuel and sister Mary both of whom were living there and already married. Joseph himself married Sarah Sprod at Congresbury in 1798 and they returned to Nailsea to live. Their seven children were baptized at Holy Trinity church between 1799 and 1817 - Hester, Harriet, James, Sarah, Samuel, Mary and Emma. All were raised to adulthood, but times were clearly hard. Joseph later reported that he had several times obtained parish relief for his family from Wick St Lawrence. Perhaps it was a reflection of poor living conditions in their childhood, that Joseph's daughters all married but were all childless.

By 1838, Joseph was 67 and unable to continue in his work as a collier. Dependent once again on parish suport, an order was made to remove Joseph and Sarah his wife back to Wick St Lawrence for support. The couple remained living in Nailsea, however, where Joseph died in 1840. His death was recorded by an announcement in the Bristol Mercury - indicating at least a relative improvement in the prosperity of his family which would have been unthinkable a generation earlier. Sarah lived with her daughters in Nailsea and Bristol for the rest of her long life. Joseph was the first of four generations of his family to live as coal miners in Somerset, Wales and Pennsylvania, USA.