I said yesterday that I’d found, for the second time, a record of words allegedly spoken by my great-great-great-great grandfather, in this case, Billy Herring. So here’s the other instance, and how I came across it. This time, it’s a George Greenwell, a figure who has foxed me for more than fifteen years. I don’t know when he died, except that it was before mid-1837, or when he was born. I do know that he got married in Sunderland in 1811, and I also know from the Baptist church records that he was a newcomer to the Baptist community in about 1808, and ‘of Mr. Haldane’s persuasion’. This means he was right up to the minute on fundamental Baptist dogma, as preached by two brothers called Haldane a few years earlier, in Scotland, including a very Calvinist attitude to religion, and a hard line on the wrongness of infant baptism.
I know he was alive in 1816, when his second son, another George – I’m descended from the elder one, Robert – was born, but I also know that he must have been alive in the early 1820s, because his son George wrote a long, semi-autobiographical poem in 1839, which describes the death of his father. I guess this death must have occurred before 1828, because he doesn’t appear in the local trade directory publishhed then. The mystery George was a shoemaker, like his brother-in-law, Alexander Wilson. I know that Wilson knew Robert Morrison (the first man to translate the Bible into Chinese) and that Morrison knew George Stephenson (steam trains). So maybe …
If the son is a clue to the father, then George senior was a linguist. His son was fluent in French, German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. The son’s poem praises the father’s learning. I am beginning to suspect that his father might have been widowed, and have been a sight older than his mother, but here I am wandering badly into the realms of the maybes (always fatal, really). I also know, to be completist, that he probably had a sister called Jane, since his marriage was witnessed by a Jane Greenwell, and I also know that his handwriting was clear; and that he probably moved to a Baptist community, a spin-off from Sunderland, in Hetton-le-Hole (small village south of the town).
And I guess that he’d come from near Hamsterley in Weardale, and that he was the grandson of the farmer and churchwarden of the same name who signed the register there in the 1750s. But I can’t prove it.
But, unless the son has gone in for a bit of poetic licence, I also know what his last words were. The poem – it’s a bit over-wrought – at one point addresses the elder brother Robert, and asks him to remember the day their father died.