Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Respectable Woman

Gravestone of Michael Snell (1788-1810)
at St Giles in the Wood
Mary Ann Isaac was born in Yarnscombe, Devon in 1788, the youngest of three children of Hugh Isaac and Ann Cheek. Little is known about her childhood, although it was somewhat usual to grow up in a family with so few children.

In September of 1808, Mary married Michael Snell, youngest son of William Snell and Rebecca Cooke of Dodscott in the neighbouring parish of St Giles in the Wood. Mary Ann was pregnant at the time of her marriage, as her son William was born early the following year.

Then tragedy struck. Michael died in November of 1810 at the age of 32. At the time Mary Ann was pregnant with her second child, Michael, who was born in early 1811.

Michael Snell's will was proven at Barnstaple a month after his death. The will is somewhat unusual in that it provides both for his son William and for his unborn child.

After her husband's death, Mary Ann likely lived with her parents. Her mother died in the summer of 1811. Seven years later, she married Thomas Joce of Yarnscombe.

Ann and Thomas had two children:  James William who was born in 1821, and Mary Jane was born in 1829. In 1841, Thomas was a farmer living at Slees, Yarnscombe with Mary Ann and his two children.

Mary Ann should have lived an ordinary life as the wife of respectable farmer, except for two incidents. In January 1846, Mary Ann was accused by Mrs. Cory of the Fortescue Arms Inn in Barnstaple of having stolen a sable muff. The case generated considerable interest, and was the subject of two lengthy articles in the North Devon Journal, likely because Mary Ann was "a respectable woman." Mary Ann was a regular vendor at the Barnstaple Market, selling poultry and vegetables. On January 30, 1846, Mrs. Cory purchased a turkey from Mary Ann, but accidentally left her sable muff behind. When Mrs. Cory later returned to the market, Mary Ann at first denied having seen the muff, although other nearby vendors were certain that they had seen it with her. Mary Ann then stated that another woman had claimed the muff shortly afterwards. The magistrates concluded that there was enough evidence to send Mary Ann to trial. At her trial in April she was found guilty and sentenced to three months imprisonment.

Three years later, Mary Ann was in trouble with the law again, although this time it was her husband and son who were charged. When a sheep went missing from the flock of Samuel Davis, suspicion fell upon the family of Thomas Joce. Although Mary Ann and her husband willingly allowed their house to be searched, they refused to account for the 50 pounds of mutton that was being pickled in salt and obvious signs that a sheep had recently been butchered. The evidence was sufficient for the magistrates to commit Thomas and his son James to trial. At their trial, however, the Court ruled that there was no case whatsoever against James, and that there was insufficient evidence to show that Thomas had stolen the sheep, despite "strong circumstantial evidence" and the suspicious behaviour of his wife. The North Devon Journal noted that Thomas "
is very respectfully connected, and has always been considered an honourable man and a man of some substance."

Thomas died in October of the following year. Mary Ann followed him to the grave four months later.

Gravestone of Thomas Lovering
Snell (1835-1841) at Tawstock
Mary Ann's oldest child, William Snell, is something of a mystery. According to the terms of his father's will, he would have received half of his father's estate as well as his father's watch when he turned 21 in 1830. A year later he married Fanny Lovering of Tawstock. Four children followed: William, Michael, Thomas Lovering, and Elizabeth.

Here begins the mystery. William Snell does not appear in the 1841 Census. His wife Fanny is a servant at the Vicarage in Bishops Tawton, Devon. Two children live with another family in Bishop's Tawton, while the youngest, Elizabeth, is living with her aunts in Tawstock. Their other child, Michael, is living with his grandmother, Mary Ann Joce. Thomas died later that year and is buried at Tawstock.

In 1851, Fanny is still a servant at the Vicarage, the children are still living with relatives or elsewhere, and William Snell is a lodger in Finsbury, Middlesex. 1851 also saw the death of William and Fanny's son Michael.

In 1861, William is back in Barnstaple, while Fanny is now living with her brother-in-law in Landkey, Devon. In 1864, William death at Landkey was announced in the North Devon Journal. Fanny died at Barnstaple nine years later.

Advertisement in Trewman's Exeter Flying Post

His brother Michael Snell seems to have been far more successful. Michael established himself as a Wine and Spirit Merchant in Barnstaple, Devon. Several flagons bearing his name survive, and advertisements appeared frequently in the North Devon Journal and Trewman's Exeter Flying Post.

Michael married Eliza Sharland Taylor, eldest daughter of Isaac Taylor and Ann Sharland, at Tiverton, Devon in May 1837. Their daughter Ellen Taylor SNELL was born the following February. Nine months later Eliza died, leaving Michael a widower with a infant child. Ellen was sent to live with her maternal grandparents but eventually returned to Barnstaple to live with her father.

In 1843, Michael married Elizabeth Bowden, third daughter of John Bowden and Mary Keen of Berrynarbor, Devon. Michael and Elizabeth had eight children, six girls and two boys, five who survived to adulthood.

Sometime after 1871, Michael retired to Lee Cottage in Berrynarbor. Elizabeth died in 1888. Michael died in 1895 at the age of 84. Their son Michael, a stockbroker, landowner and justice of the peace, continued to live in the area until his death in 1932. Inside Berrynarbor church is a commemorative plaque describing him as a "generous benefactor of this Church and Parish."


North Devon Journal, Thursday, February 12, 1846
North Devon Journal, Thursday, April 16, 1846
North Devon Journal, Thursday, July 5, 1849
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, Thursday, July 5, 1849
Western Times, Saturday, July 7, 1849

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