Richard Blissenden, c1747 – 1831, 4th Great Grandfather, Deal, Kent

When I started writing this blog one of the main purposes was to try and get behind a brick wall that I had hit with my direct ancestor Richard Blissenden who dies in the poor house in Deal, Kent, in 1831, at about 84 years old. Richard is my 4th great grandfather and he married Sarah Moat in Deal, Kent, on 11 May 1777.

In digging into the Blechynden family in Kent – who are certainly on my family tree, albeit distantly via a marriage to Elizabeth Boys, I have discovered a fascinating family that I will continue to write about but I have not yet been able to discover a close family connection to the Blissendens of Kent.

Sanderstead or Deal?

Although I say above that Richard is my brick wall I did have parents from him on my family tree: Richard Bisenden and Susannah Matthew from Sanderstead near Croydon in Surrey with their son Richard being born in Sanderstead in 1747 (with a baptism on 13 September 1747). I’d probably taken this information from other online family trees when I first became interested in genealogy and started looking into my Blissenden ancestors. The date of Richard’s baptism in 1747 in Sanderstead matches the death record insofar as the Richard who dies in the poor house in Deal was 84 years old giving a birth date of c.1747. So far so good. But something about the Sanderstead and Deal connection has never quite stacked up for me.

Firstly, we have no clear evidence that Richard from Deal is the Richard born in Sanderstead other than the year of birth looks to be the same. What we do know for certain is that when Richard marries Sarah Moat he does so in Deal in Kent, the marriage record says he and Sarah are “of this parish”, and that his name is Richard Blesslend.

Secondly, why would someone from a small village in rural Surrey move to Deal which was then a major naval port? Sanderstead Richard’s father was a husbandman which meant he was either a tenant farmer or owned a small plot of land. Perhaps changes in agricultural practice meant making a living from the land was no longer viable and Richard moved to Deal in search of work? This is possible, of course, but Deal was 80 miles away and if looking for work why not the pull of London which is only about 14 miles from Sanderstead?

Thirdly, the fact that Richard is illiterate has always bothered me. We know he is illiterate because he is only able to sign his marriage certificate with his mark. Of course, many people were illiterate in the mid-1700s and for men the estimate is that about 40% were unable to read or write although the number would have been much higher amongst the poorer working classes. However, if Richard is the Richard from Sanderstead, we know that his father was literate because he signed his marriage bond with a nice hand (see image below) and it seems unlikely to me that, if the father was literate, his son would not be.

The spelling of the name is also an issue for me. I am used to the many different spellings of Blissenden, Bletchynden etc but Richard Bisenden snr from Sanderstead writes his own name as “Bisenden” and I have long suspected, but been unable to prove, a family connection to the Croydon family of the same name. Richard Bisenden of Sanderstead, husbandman, would have lived just four miles away from Thomas Bisenden (both senior and junior) of Croydon. In contrast, Richard from Deal is married with the surname Blesslend, his children are baptised under the names Blesenden or Blissenden and both Richard and Sarah die in the poor house as Blissendens.

The marriage record of Richard Blessland and Sarah Moat, 1777, Deal, Kent

The Richard born in Sanderstead had three siblings: elder sister Susannah was born in 1744 and died in 1760; brother Thomas was born in 1750 and sister Elizabeth in 1753. I have not been able to track down Elizabeth but Thomas may be the Thomas who marries Susannah Hopper at St John the Baptist Church in Croydon in 1772. There is no suggestion or evidence that any of Richard’s siblings or parents moved to Deal. On the other hand we can be confident that Richard Blesslend is the Richard Blissenden who dies in the poor house in Deal because two of his sons name one of their daughters Sarah Moat Blissenden apparently after their grandmother and at least one other grandchild has Moat as a middle name. One example of this is shown below in the daughter of William Blissenden and Sarah Reynolds.

Extract from my family tree

All of the above leads me to conclude that it is very unlikely that the Richard who is born in 1747 in Sanderstead in Surrey is my 4th great grandfather. It is time to remove him, his spouse, his siblings and his parents from my family tree.


So, in removing the Sanderstead family, this reopens the question of who are the parents and ancestors of Richard Blesslend? Recent research has thrown up some possible avenues to follow. In particular, there are a number of “Blesslends” and name variants living in and around Deal in the 1600s and 1700s as well as Blissendens and Blechyndens. It is possible that my 4th great grandfather Richard belongs to one of those families. Some examples are:

  • 21 Feb 1635 – Joshua Blasland baptised (Eastry), son of Richard and Jane
  • 17 Dec 1686 – Joshua Blasland baptised (Deal), son of Joshua and Elizabeth
  • 1691 – Anne Blissenden baptised (Deal), daughter of Richard and Anne
  • 4 May 1699 – Richard Bleshland buried (Deal)
  • 25 Dec 1705 – Mary Bleshland baptised (Great Mongeham), daughter of William and E.
  • 20 Apr 1707 – Thomas Blaxland married (Faversham) Mary Moat
  • 2 June 1707 – William Bleshland baptised (Deal), son of William and Ann
  • 20 Sept 1713 – William Blessland baptised (Great Mongeham), son of William and Elizabeth
  • 6 Jan 1716 – Thomas Blessland baptised (Great Mongeham), son of William and Elizabeth
  • 13 Sept 1719 – Edward Blessland baptised (Great Mongeham), son of William and Elizabeth
  • 13 May 1722 – Elizabeth Blessland baptised (Great Mongeham), daughter of William and Elizabeth
  • 12 June 1726 – Richard Bleslend baptised (Deal), son of Richard Blesland and Elizabeth
  • 2 Nov 1729 – Henry Blesland baptised (Deal), son of William and Elizabeth
  • 11 Oct 1747 – Richard Blaxland baptised (Margate), son of William and Mary
  • 02 Jul 1749 – Richard Blaxland baptised (St Laurence in Thanet), son of Richard and Elizabeth
  • 08 Dec 1751 – Henry Blassland baptised (Deal), son of Thomas and Mary Blassland
  • July 1776 – Thomas Blesendon buried (Great Mongeham)

And the following family, assuming they are one and the same, is interesting given the change in name from Blaxland to Blissland to Blissenden:

  • 02 Jan 1739 – Thomas Blaxland m Hanna Collins at St. John The Baptist Church, Margate
  • 25 Dec 1747 – Mary Blissland baptised (Deal), daughter of Thomas and Hannah Blissland
  • 10 October 1755 – Thomas Blissenden baptised (Deal), son of Thomas and Hannah Blissenden
  • 28 Mar 1759 – Edward Blissenden baptised (Deal), son of Thomas and Hannah Blissenden

A hard life

Although I don’t have much information about Richard and his wife Sarah we can be fairly sure that they had a hard life bringing up their children. Just two years after he died evidence was given to the 1833 Select Committee on Cinque-Port Pilots that tells of the depth of poverty that the Boatmen & their families suffered. I found the following at Families & History of Deal & Walmer which includes a list of Deal boatmen including my 3x great grandfather Stephen Blissenden, son of Richard. The select committee took evidence about the boatmen with Joseph Marryatt Esq. M.P. for the town and port of Sandwich to which Deal & Walmer were united writing:

“The state of the boatmen, I can assure your lordship is generally speaking, deplorable. They are pennyless and too frequently without food or sufficient clothing…”

Mr. T Robinson of the Dover Benevolent Society also wrote:

“.. coals, soup and blankets, the latter on loan until 1st May in each year”, and that

“the boatmen’s dwellings…for the most part are so wretched; furniture they have none, and their apparel by day serves to cover their innocent babes by night…”


I am no further forward in resolving my brick wall but I have found a number of possible avenues to follow up. I may never be able to track down with certainty my 5x great grandparents and this is because they were poor and illiterate; they probably left no will and no property. I have been able to follow the Blechynden’s across the generations because they were monied; they had land and property; they were literate and they mingled with the monarchy; with gentry and left detailed wills. The difference between the Blechynden’s and the Blessland/Blissenden’s is stark but no less interesting because of it.