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My 4GGF John Clarson was born in 1787 at Tamworth, Staffordshire, England, son of Joseph Clarson and Sarah, nee Gent (not to be confused with John’s brother Joseph who also married a Sarah. She was a widow of Joseph Bishop, and her maiden name was Pallet). The Clarsons had been at Tamworth since at least 1739, when John’s grandfather James Clarson married Mary Bell. I have attached an image of a simplified descendant chart – I hope it is viewable. 

I have been doing a one-name study of the Clarson families in England since the 1970s.

FINDING JOHN CLARSON

Decades ago I paid a London researcher to look for a Clarson in the military records at the National Archives, Kew. I did so because in the 1970s my mother told me of a family story, passed to her by her great-aunt Ethel Clarson, that one of our Clarson ancestors was a member of Wellington’s Infamous Army who fought in the Peninsular War.  I initially ignored this, thinking it was fanciful.

However the Tamworth censuses included a John Clarson born ca 1818 at Sligo, Ireland. I eventually realised he must have been the son of a Tamworth local, given the extreme rarity of the Clarson surname. This opened my mind to the possibility that John born in Ireland may have been born to an English soldier while serving in Ireland. Irish-born John‘s 1845 marriage certificate identified his father as John, a bricklayer, so I was looking for a soldier named John Clarson.

At that time, I knew that I was descended from a Tamworth resident, Charles Clarson, who was baptised 1823 at Macclesfield, Cheshire, the son of John, a bricklayer, and Ann. I had no real evidence that Charles’s father was John born 1787 at Tamworth. Happily for me, the family story about a soldier ancestor was about to provide that evidence.

The London researcher found a soldier named John Clareson (sic), who  was born 1787 at Tamworth, according to the baptismal certificate on the army file. I was able to confirm this was the same man I suspected was my ancestor, as Clareson was how our John’s surname was spelt when he was baptised, and Clareson was a spelling variation for Clarson at the time. From this, I was sure we were on the right track.

The army record showed that John “Clareson” baptised 4 February 1787 at Tamworth was a bricklayer when he enlisted, that he fought in the Peninsular War, and that he was in Sligo in 1818. This confirmed that John Clarson born 1787 was indeed my 4GGF.

Ironically, within months of me paying for the army research, the National Archives put its catalogue online, and I was able to find a reference to John Clareson’s army record in the index myself, although of course the content of the file was not online.

As an aside, by searching the online catalogue, I found that John Boyer of Tamworth also enlisted with the 3rd Dragoon Guards in 1805, and was discharged in 1821 aged 33. Another Tamworth son, William Alsop, joined the Regiment in 1806, and was discharged in 1821 aged 32. They were a similar age to John Clarson.

In a sad turn of events, the London researcher died before fully completing her investigations. Nevertheless what she reported to me was sufficient for my purposes.  I was able to personally view the army file during a one-day visit to London many years later, in 2002.

Although John Clarson was listed in the WO 97 series of records at the Public Record Office, Kew (and these records usually refer to soldiers who received pensions), there are no surviving pension records for John Clarson.  Long service pensions were not available until after 1823 – only disability pensions.  Perhaps John applied unsuccessfully for a disability pension, which is why he was in the WO 97 lists.

ARMY SERVICE

John Clarson was a Private with the 3rd Dragoon Guards, a heavy cavalry regiment, from 1805-1819. He was 17 (sic, he was 18 according to his baptismal age) when he enlisted on 3 July 1805, at which time he was a bricklayer, but not an apprentice (technically he was a bricklayer’s labourer).  It was not unusual for soldiers to have a trade, eg boot making, which they practiced as part of their army service.

John Clarson fought in the Peninsular War in Portugal, Spain and France against Napoleon from 1809 – 1813.  He did not fight at Waterloo on 18 Jun 1815, as he and his Regiment were in Leeds, England at the time being “re-horsed”.

By March 1816 the Regiment was stationed at Ballinrobe, co Mayo, Ireland. However John Clarson with several others were on detachment at Sligo, co Sligo, Ireland, from June 1816 to May 1818.  Sligo had a cavalry barracks, according to the French consul Coquebert de Montbret’s 1791 notebook.

I was told by a military historian that Cavalry Regiments in the 18th and 19th Centuries spent much of their time on Excise duties and other tasks in “aid of the Civil Power”, so it is quite possible that John’s bricklaying skills were being utilized at Sligo.

It cannot be a coincidence that the Sligo Gaol was built in 1818 and would have required more skilled craftsmen than could be supplied locally. The Gaol could hold 200 prisoners, and was closed in 1956.

In March 1818 the Regiment moved to Dublin, Ireland, but John remained on detachment. Throughout the remainder of 1818 John was at Philipstown (now called Daingean), then Tullamore. Both places were in Co Offaly, Ireland, or Kings Co as it was known then.

There is no known surviving evidence of John’s marriage in Ireland. We know his wife’s name was Ann from the baptismal records for his English-born children, but Ann’s maiden name is my first brick wall.

I believe it would have been a Protestant marriage, as Ann showed no indication of being a Catholic. Her English-born children were baptised in the Church of England, and she re-married and was buried at St Editha’s parish church, Tamworth. Furthermore there is no evidence that I have maternal Irish ancestry from my DNA matches at Ancestry.com. My mother’s first cousin has also done a DNA test, and as his mother was of German descent, his lack of ethnic Irish ancestry is apparent. This points to Ann being of English descent. Perhaps she was the daughter of another English soldier. She was 12 years younger than John, according to her age in the 1841 and 1851 censuses and her age 56 at death in 1855.

They are likely to have married either at Ballinrobe where he was posted prior to 1816; or at Sligo where his son John claimed to be born circa 1818 in English census records. There are no known surviving Irish marriage records for Clarson or similar ca 1817. A John Clarson marriage cannot be found in the Army registers, possibly because John was not with the rest of the Regiment – he was on detachment.

Of course, the chances of such an early Protestant marriage record surviving the 1922 bombing and subsequent fire at the Four Courts Record Office, Dublin, are small.

John snr was discharged aged 32, at Dublin in January 1819, after 13.5 years service. He returned to his home town of Tamworth, Staffordshire, England with wife Ann and infant son John.

WATERLOO MEDAL

The Military General Service Medal (MGSM), commonly called the Waterloo Medal, was issued in 1847-1848 to surviving soldiers who were present at one or more of these battles: Battle of Ligny (16 June 1815), Battle of Quatre Bras (16 June 1815), and the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815).

As John Clarson had died in 1830, he was not eligible to receive the MGSM. It is a moot point, but he may not have been present at any of the qualifying Battles, despite his long experience in the Peninsular War.

The MGSM was awarded to almost 39,000 Waterloo veterans. These soldiers were credited with two years extra service and pay, to count for all purposes.

At the time the granting of this medal was controversial, as many veterans of the Peninsula War felt aggrieved that those who were present at Waterloo – many of them raw recruits, who had never seen a shot fired before – should receive such a public acknowledgement of their achievements; while they, who had undergone the labours and privations of the whole war, had had no recognition of their services beyond the thirteen votes of thanks awarded to them in Parliament. (Source: Wikipedia, The Waterloo Medal)

MARRIED LIFE IN ENGLAND

In civilian life, John Clarson returned to his trade as a bricklayer’s labourer. No doubt his recent experience in Ireland stood him in good stead.

John and Ann’s daughter Mary Clarson was baptised at Tamworth in 1821; and their sons Charles and David were baptised at Macclesfield, Cheshire in 1823 and 1826 (David was baptised privately, according to an entry in the Tamworth parish register dated December 1832 when he was aged 6). Macclesfield is about 100km north of Tamworth. I don’t know why they moved to Macclesfield, perhaps it was because John obtained work there on a large long term project. After 3 to 8 years at Macclesfield, they returned to Tamworth.

Son Thomas was born on 10 September 1829 at Tamworth, but was not baptised until he was aged 3, in December 1832, on the same day that his brother David was publicly received into the church at Tamworth. By then, their father John had been dead for two years.

John Clarson died at Tamworth in November 1830, aged 42. He was survived by his wife and children aged 12, 9, 7, 4 and 1.

Only two of his five children were known to have been baptised in Protestant churches while John was alive (ie Mary in 1821 at Tamworth, and Charles in 1823 at Macclesfield).  The eldest child, John jnr, was born in Ireland, and may have been baptised there.  John’s fourth child, David, was baptised privately in Macclesfield in 1826 according to his 1832 Tamworth baptism (private baptisms were sometimes carried at home out when the infant was not expected to survive. They were typically not recorded until the child was formally “received into the church”).  David and the fifth child, Thomas, were baptised in Tamworth during 1832, after John’s death.  This seems to suggest that John fell out with the church about the time of David’s private baptism in 1826 at Macclesfield.

John’s widow Anne Clarson married Joseph Baker at Tamworth in 1834, but she was a widow again by census night in June 1841.

Their 4 surviving children all married young, aged 20. Thomas died young in 1834, a couple of months after his mother’s remarriage.

THE LEGACY OF A SOLDIER

A Clarson family tree prepared in about 1883 by a descendant of John’s brother Joseph was aware of a related branch of Clarson brothers called “John, David and Charles who are now labouring men, men who never seemed to raise themselves to the original level of the family”. The 1883 genealogist did not know how these three brothers fitted in the family tree. This indicates that the name and war service of the father of the three brothers was not remembered –  only 70 years after John served in the Peninsular War and 53 years after his death at Tamworth.

I acknowledge that John the soldier may have been difficult for the 1883 genealogist to trace, given that John did not marry in Tamworth, and his older sons were not baptised there. But it is sad to think that these cousins were unaware of their relationship, and there was such a social gulf between them that they apparently did not talk to each other – even though they all lived in the same town. Surely if the 1883 genealogist had approached the surviving brothers Charles and David, who were in their 60s, they could have told him the name and birth details of their own father, ie John the soldier.

While John was soldiering, his brother Joseph Clarson must have become a very successful mason and bricklayer, because Joseph’s five surviving adult sons were all middle class men, with careers as builders (with one exception, Joseph’s youngest son was a draper). One son William died in 1835 aged 31, a builder. Another son John died in 1849 aged 40, a builder and a moderately wealthy man from his Will. For these sons to be so successful at a relatively young age, they must have had a good financial start in life from their father Joseph, who died in 1831 aged 57.

It is a striking comparison to John the soldier’s three sons, bricklayer’s labourers who all married at age 20. It was quite unusual for males to marry as minors, especially so for three brothers to all do so.  There were no signs of wealth, eg marriage licences, wills, houses or headstones, for these sons. Their father obviously did not provide them with a financial headstart – his death when they were very young must have soaked up the few financial assets he had, if any.

However, the three sons had long marriages, lived to a decent age and each raised many children. From a long term view, John’s family was quite successful.