Thomas Elwall of Ettingshall, Sedgley

Thomas Elwall, yeoman of Ettingshall, died in early 1716 leaving a will written in 1712. Here he lists his four children as Thomas Elwall, Edward Elwall, Elizabeth Gibbens and Mary Elwall. The following sequence of baptisms can be found in the All Saints, Sedgley Parish register viz. Thomas (bap 21 Aug 1673), Edward (bap 9 Nov 1676), Elizabeth (No Baptism found), Mary (bap 22 Oct 1670)

Thomas is therefore likely to be the father of the Edward Elwall, mercer of Wolverhampton, who famously stood up in Stafford Assizes in 1726 and delivered a one hour learned self defence of his religious views on the theology of the Trinity. He was acquitted of Heresy and Blasphemy. He later wrote a treatise on this case brought against him, that was cited by Joseph Priestley and others in the Unitarian movement. Edward Elwall was also an early Sabbatarian and argued that Saturday was the Lord’s day rather than Sunday. For this he was dubbed the ‘Jew Elwall’

There are very many branches of the Elwall family all based in Sedgley that had multiplied from the beginning of the seventeenth century. The family of Thomas Elwall appears one of the most successful, wealthy and literate branches, probably descended from an Oliver Elwall who had died in 1664.  They were clearly free thinkers and like many families had been hardened in their radical views by the rapid oscillations in the religious and political environment from Cromwell in the 1650’s to the Act of Toleration in 1689.

The will of Thomas’s daughter Mary is particularly interesting in this regard. Written in August 1716 immediately after the the death of her father, it is an unusual document. It would appear she ‘intermarried’ a Richard Elwall, probably a cousin after 1712, and in the 1716 document she asserts her rights set out in a schedule made at her ‘intermarriage’ and also over the bequest of £60 of money left in her father’s will. She does not die until 33 years later in 1749 when her son Samuel claims his inheritance. Interestingly, she names her first cousin William Elwall, a shoemaker of Dudley as Executor of this will, ahead of her husband or brother. One reason for this may be that William was a some time Deacon/Minister in the Netherton Baptist Church. There is no record of Mary’s marriage to Richard or of the birth of her son. All this might indicate the existence of a somewhat closed community of early Baptists who kept themselves to themselves. She does not though mention her ‘heretic’ brother who was by then living in Wolverhampton.

Mary names her niece as Mary Gibbens, who would be the daughter of John Gibbens and her sister Elizabeth. Her father had already talked about his daughter Elizabeth Gibbens. There is a marriage in All Saints back on 12 May 1666 of a Thomas Elwall and an Elizabeth Gibbens, so it is not unreasonable to surmise that Thomas’s wife was also an Elizabeth Gibbens and that the daughter Elizabeth Elwall therefore similarly married a cousin recorded on 20 Jan 1695 at All Saints, Sedgley as the marriage between John Gibbens and Elizabeth Elwall.

Significantly in her will, Mary also names the children of her oldest brother Thomas. We had already learned the names of Thomas’s two oldest sons from their Grandfather’s will (ie Thomas and William) but Mary adds the following in order: Elizabeth (bap 21 Sep 1699), Mary (bap 1 Feb 1701), Ann (bap 18 Feb 1706) and William (No Baptism found) As a separate bequest she lists two younger sons Daniel (bap 5 Jan 1712) and John (bap 20 Nov 1715).

Thomas’s daughter Ann Elwall (bap 1706) is therefore the prime candidate to be the bride of Thomas Shaw (bap 1702) married in St Thomas, Dudley on 2 Oct 1729. However, there is not one mention of the Shaw family in any Elwall documents and it is a purely circumstantial hypothesis. The close family connection to Edward Elwall, the Unitarian, and his obvious deep reading of biblical and theological texts sets a good family background for his great nephew, Thomas Shaw, to attend Oxford University in 1750 and subsequently to go into the Church. Up until then, there is a conspicuous lack of family direction to intellectual study either in the Shaw family or in the Elwall family. It would also explain a lot later in 1809 why James Shaw-Hellier chose Elwall as the middle name for his daughter. (ie. Emma Elwall Shaw-Hellier bap 31 Aug 1809, St Benedict’s, Wombourne) Edward Elwall’s reputation was greatly enhanced 50 years after his death, when Unitarian beliefs were at their strongest. The Doctrine of the Trinity Act was passed, for example, in 1813.

Sources and Notes

  • Will of Thomas Elwall, Probate 11 May 1716, Lichfield Record Office
  • Dictionary of National Biography, Edward Elwall (1676-1744) (Son)
  • Will of Mary Elwall, Probate 10 Mar 1749, Lichfield Record Office (Daughter)
  • Will of William Elwall, Shoemaker of Dudley, Probate 1 Oct 1741 Worcester Archives (Nephew)
  • Netherton General Baptists: The Baptist Quarterly
    • The Netherton Baptist Church Book shows that William Elwall of Dudley inherited the shoemaking business from John Newey, his father-in-law. John Newey was also his predecessor as Deacon of the Sect.
    • William’s own father Edward Elwell, brother to Thomas, had died in 1681 (admon)  and was a Maltster in Dudley. It would appear this malting business was carried on by George Goodwin, who married an Elizabeth Elwell in 1705 (presumably Edward’s daughter). George Goodwin, maltster, was a trustee of Thomas’s will.
  • Other marriages of Anne Elwalls between 1720 and 1740
    • Ann Elwall daughter of Edward Elwall, Sabbatarian, married STREET in London, according to his own autobiographical essay.
    • Anna Elwall daughter of William Elwall, Shoemaker of Dudley married Daniel HAYNES
    • Ann Elwall daughter of William Elwall of Ettingshall, Will 1726 married PRICE
  • Special entry for 9 Nov 1676 in the All Saints Parish Register reads: “Edward s Thomas and Elizabeth Elwall, Ettings, nailer” and then in brackets “‘ The Sedgley Heretic’, settled in Wolverhampton, removed to Stafford, later to London where he died 1744”
  • DE/1/7/238 Dudley Archives – Nuptial agreement confirms Edward Elwall’s marriage to Jane Woodward on 14 Oct 1699,