Saturday, December 17, 2011

Robert Ainsworth the infant freeholder

Brightmet... I think the name Brightmet is the most beautiful thing I ever heard. When I first said it tears welled up in my eyes, and I had to say it again and again. Brightmet. If ever I can own a place with a field I want to name it Brightmet.

The Ainsworths had farms in Brightmet. The Brits don't say it as Brightmet anymore. Brightmede was its original name. It means Bright Meadow. Oh, I love it too much! Now they call it Breightmet, and say "breetmet". But long ago when the Moon was young they called it Bright Meadow and they had farms there.

They also lived in Harwood. In 1212, the first year that anyone wrote down the Olde English name, it was Harewode or Harewud, meaning Gray Wood. Quite a contrast to Brightmede. These places are the north and south of the Cockey Moor, west of Manchester in country that was once the dukedom of Blackburn and Middleton in Lancashire.

First the Ainsworths married Middletons and moved their stock to the manor, then their sons married into the manor of Pleasington and the gentry began to sell land in Brightmede and Harwood to pay taxes on the manors. Then in 1440 Lawrence Ainsworth married Margaret Talbot of the manor of Bashall in Salesbury. Oh, it was a grand match! She brought to the family the Peverels (yes, Harry Potter's ancestors, William Peverel, son of William the Conqueror) and a line that merged the Princes of Denmark, the Harcourts, to the Dukes of Normandy. With connections to castle keeps like Clitherou and Peverel and Warwickshire, the lines of kings and kingmakers, what could compare in the muddy tracts of Harwood and Breightmet on the moors? They were rented out, carved into parcels, and sold. Some of that, to be sure, was dictated by taxes and excises from Manchester, but much of it was simply the result of a change in interest, the red-cheeked land and happy dirtiness of farming gave way to blueblooded society and the patronage of abbeys.

Lawrence's son Ellis sold parcels and managed rents, his son Thomas supervised lands and nephews. And around 1550 Thomas's brother Robert seems to have decided to retain some of the old home land and to dispute some in-law relatives, the Comptons, for water rights and right-of-ways and a family pride emerged. Robert had two sons, Peter and Giles, in whom he had instilled a passion to value that land and fight all takers. But Robert died an untimely death, and so did brother Peter, dying young, but Peter managed to leave a son, Robert, born and orphaned in 1598.

And Giles, the survivor, must have gained another value besides holding onto and acquiring more land, he must have acquired a passion for preserving and protecting his kin and the rights of his familly. We know this, four hundred years later, because amid his land disputes against Martha Compton, who resented being a renter on land she felt she ought to own by virtue of her families' work on it, Giles Ainsworth petitoned the magistrate in Manchester to recognize the infant Robert as "freeholder", a deeded landowner, when Robert could not be more than 1 year old. And Giles never failed or missed an opportunity to list Robert Ainsworth, infant, as a freeholder living in his house. Thus did he nurture and protect his nephew, and he held onto his brother's land against all claims and challengers.

Robert the freeholder grew, left Giles' home as Giles married and fathered daughters. Robert pursued an apprenticeship in Middleton, and one fine day in 1637 he married Ellen Carlell in St. Leonard's Church and made sure, in pride of place, to record the marriage in Harwood as well.

This little mystery, put together through bits and pieces in the deeds and records of Lancashire and Manchester matters to me for more reasons than just the almost-lost story of an orphan who was rescued into his uncle's home and whose land were rescued when he was an unknowing innocent baby, and I certainly enjoy the thrill of finding and solving a mystery and piecing together the fragments of a lost story -- it matters to me because Robert Ainsworth the infant freeholder is the missing link in my ancestry, the one who turned his eyes to the far horizon and instilled in his sons a hunger for something else. It was his son and grandson who then, in the mid-1600's moved across the sea to America.

It is written somewhere deep in my heart, in my genes. Years ago I created the moniker Suspero as my email pseudonym, Latin for "I expect" or "I suspect". The ancient Ainsworth motto, unknown to me at the time, written in the 1200's, was Spero Meliora, "I expect better things".

Giles expected better things than being parceled out while "the better family" moved to Pleasington and Bashall. He expected better things for his brother's little boy Robert, and Robert, who branched out to a trade he mastered, who married and started his own family expected better things... and ultimately it led them to America. He is the missing link that bridges the seas and distant family and a place called Brightmet.

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