Lieut John Blechynden of Woodnesborough, Junior 1635-1672

John Blechynden of Woodnesborough was the second son of John Blechynden and Anne Glover. He was born in 1635 into a well-to-do county family in Kent but, as the second son, he was expected to make his own way in the world given that he was unlikely to inherit property from his father. London merchants were frequently the younger sons of landed families sent to London to make their fortune and John Blechynden was no different. In 1651, when he was 16, John Blechynden was apprenticed to Christopher Bradbury of the Drapers Company. The Worshipful Company of Drapers is one of the historic Great Twelve Livery Companies and was founded during the Middle Ages. The Drapers Company focused on the wholesale trade of wool and cloth and helped to regulate prices in that market.

The online London Livery Records show that John Blechynden (actually spelled Blissenden – see my earlier post here) was apprenticed to Christopher Bradbury for seven years. I had puzzled over the fact that, when he wrote his will on 29 July 1672 (at the age of just 37), he did so on board the King’s ship Bonaventure with one of the witnesses to his will being the ships surgeon (“chirurgian”) John Cotton. In England, surgeons were employed on naval ships and on some long commercial voyages. Did he write his will in the full knowledge of his imminent death on board the Bonaventure? Perhaps, although his will says that he is in good and perfect health and memorie:

I John Blechynden late of Woodnesborough in ye County of Kent the younger gent, being in good and perfect health and memorie thanks be to Almightie God, doe make and ordaine this my last Will and Testament in manner and form following.

extract from John Blechynden’s Will

There is no evidence that he actually died on board the Bonaventure and there is a likely burial record dated 27 December 1672 for a John Bletchenden, Gent., at St Clement Danes in Westminster. The date, and the acknowledgement in the burial records that he is a Gentleman, accords with his status and the probate date of 17 January 1672/3.

So, the question remains, why would someone who had spent seven years training to be a draper write his last will and testament on board the Bonaventure? We know that the 17th century was an age of international trade and competition with the East India Company at the height of its power. The following passage suggests that the Bonaventure was in the West Indies in 1668 and perhaps conveyed goods including, sadly, slaves.

II. Mem. of slaves, cattle, sugars, and other goods conveyed away by Lieut.-Gen. Willoughby from Surinam, after knowledge and publication of the Peace at Barbadoes with the Bonaventure on 19th Feb. last, viz. :—412 slaves, 160 cattle, 67 persons, and 150,000 lb. sugar, besides planks, speckled wood, and dry wares to the value of 150,000 lbs. sugar. With attestation and certificate as above. 

‘America and West Indies: May 1668’, in Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 5, 1661-1668, ed. W Noel Sainsbury (London, 1880), pp. 564-576. British History Online
The Burning of the Royal James at Solebay

Interestingly when John Blechynden wrote his will on the Bonaventure this was just two months after the Battle of Solebay, the first naval battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, which took place off the Suffolk coast. The Bonaventure was in the Van for that action and lost three men with ten wounded. Hundreds of men were lost from the flagship, the Royal James, including the Admiral of the Blue Squadron Edward Montagu, Earl of Sandwich. Perhaps John Blechynden was on board the Bonaventure, was wounded, and eventually died from his wounds? But, if so, why was a draper on board?

Perhaps surprisingly, apprenticeship into the Drapers Company does not necessarily mean that John Blechynden was ever intended to become a draper. It is possible that he was apprenticed into the Drapers Company but that his master was actually a mariner, or a mariner as well as a draper as some members of the company wore two occupational hats and had a “steady business” as well as a more eratic but potentially lucrative one particularly for the officer class on board the ships. Increasingly, I think this is the case for John Blechynden as handwritten records which are described as “A catalogue of all the Flag Officers of the Several Fleets since His Majesties happy Resoration in ye Year 1660. His Royal Highness the Duke of York Lord High Admiral of England” and to be found at show that John was a Lieutenant in what we would now call the Kings Navy. In 1665, at the age of 30, the records show that he was a Lieutenant on board the Golden Lyon and then in 1672 a Lieutenant on board the Bonaventure:

Record of John Blechynden’s appointments to the Golden Lyon and Bonaventure (note the mispelling which is corrected) from

The Golden Lyon was actually captured from the Dutch in 1664 off the west coast of Africa by Major Robert Holmes who had been given specific instructions to do so in order to protect from the Dutch the Royal [African] Company’s agents, goods, ships, and factories as above, especially from molestation by the Golden Lion.  The Royal African Company had been granted a charter in 1660 granting it a monopoly over English trade along the west coast of Africa with the Company’s primary purpose being the search for gold. In 1663 the Company was granted a new and expanded charter granting it an expanded trade remit and monopoly including the trade in ivory and in slaves.

National interest and international trade were indistinguishable in the 17th century and mercantile competition led to the first Anglo-Dutch War in 1652. Forts were built to protect ships and harbours, and even operated as trading stations, but were captured and recaptured. We don’t know to what extent John Blechynden was involved in trade on the African coast or if he was involved in the Royal African Company and its capture of the Golden Lyon in 1664 but we do know he was appointed to it the following year and then in April 1666 it was agreed that the ship should be given to the Royal African Company:

The King to the Duke of York. Upon suit of the Royal African Company, his Royal Highness is commanded forthwith to give order to bestow upon them the ship Golden Lyon taken from the Dutch on the coast of Africa, with her tackle and furniture

‘America and West Indies: April 1666’, in Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 5, 1661-1668, ed. W Noel Sainsbury (London, 1880), pp. 369-379. British History Online

No reference to John Blechynden’s appointment as a Lieutenant to either the Golden Lyon or the Bonaventure is made in his will but he does refer to pay he was owed by the King for his services:

To my brother Thomas Blechynden and my brother Edward Blechynden’s children all of them each alike to be divided amongst them all my monyee as is due to mee and likewise the Pay which shall become due unto mee from His Majestie for my Services.

extract from John Blechynden’s will

An appointment to the Golden Lyon in 1665 and the Bonaventure in 1672 does suggest a navy career and that potentially John was at both the Battle of Vågen  in August 1665 (which saw an English flotilla battle against Dutch merchant ships in the neutral port of Bergen in Norway as part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War) and at the Battle of Solebay. There is a family connection to the navy through Sir John Mennes, John Blechynden’s grandfather’s “loving nephew” and who had been commander of the navy; commander-in-chief in the Downs and admiral of the Narrow Seas and then Comptroller of the Navy. Such a family connection could have secured John Blechynden a valuable position in the navy from which he could make his fortune.

But was John Blechynden ever actually a Draper? On balance I think he was a member of the Company but probably did not engage in the wholesale trade of wool and cotton. If he traded at all it is more likely to have been in tobacco; spices, ivory and maybe slaves. It is perhaps telling that when he was apprenticed to the Drapers Company his master was a Christopher Bradbury. There is a Captain Christopher Bradbury who dies in 1685 in Barbados and in the extract to his will he refers to himself as a vintner and a mariner and who had an estate in Barbados:

Extract from Captain Christopher Bradbury’s last will, 1685.

John Blechynden’s will is quite short (and is transcribed in my pages) and I had initally assumed, given that it was written on board the Bonaventure, that it was a nuncupative will. But looking again at it I don’t think it is nuncupative and, as already mentioned, he describes himself as being of good and perfect health and memorie. He is not on his “death bed” and his probable burial record shows that he was buried in St Clement Danes in Westminster in London in December 1672. Although his will is quite short it is helpful in confirming some family relationships. He states that he wants all money that is due to him and the pay due to him from His Majesty to be divided equally between his brother Thomas Blechynden and his brother Edward Blechynden’s children. These children are not named but they are referred to in the probate record of 17 January 1672/3. Thomas and Margaret (Lynch)’s children as mentioned in the probate record are: John; Thomas; Edward-Tookey; Elmer; Gratian; Elizabeth; Grace and Margaret Blechynden, and Edward and Mary (Blyth’s) children are: Maria; Elizabeth and Sara Blechynden. John’s will also refers to his sister Elizabeth who is made Executrix of his will and forty shillings to buy a ring in remebrance of him:

Item I doe give unto my sister Elizabeth Blechynden fortie shillings of lawful money of England to buy her a ring, whome I doe make my Executrix of this my last Will and Testament.

extract from John Blechynden’s will

There is no mention of any wife or children of his own and sadly he died at the age of just 37 but his short will hints at a life at sea and travels far beyond those of any of his ancestors.