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THE CORNISH FAMILY OF ESSEX
(Mrs Mary Stewart Kyritsis [mem.no.42])

It is probably rather greedy to try to search further back in time for the antecedents of James Olmstead's wife Joyce Cornish, whose early death in childbirth in 1621 probably prompted his decision to emigrate with the only children left to him by 1632, Nicholas and Nehemiah. Since the parish records in England at best only begin in 1538, whatever is recorded before that date is very much of a scattered nature. However, Essex is one of the best English counties for providing orderly records, and it was not difficult to at least establish several important points.

Joyce Cornish, born probably around 1585, was married in Great Leighs to James Olmsted on 26 October 1605 and they moved to neighbouring Fairsted. No record is found of her birth in Great Leighs, a tiny hamlet several fields removed from Fairsted, and for a while it seemed that her birth must have been actually in Aythorpe Roding, another hamlet a bit to the west of Great Leighs although not really very far away. Evidence pointing in this direction was the discovery of the birth of a Joyce Cornish on 29 September 1580; she subsequently died on 22 November 1581, but working on the premise that everyone renamed children after dead ones, it has been assumed that her father, John Cornish, probably had another daughter later whom he also named Joyce, and that would be the one who married James Olmsted.

One must remember that the name Cornish, found in Essex, pretty well indicates that the original man was undoubtedly a Cornishman, drifted up from the Southwest. And indeed, the earliest records in Essex indicate only two men by that name, some 100 years before Joyce was born: John Cornish living in Chelmsford, and Thomas Cornish living in Mashbury. For the time being we will discard the Chelmsford line, as that was the "big city", and concentrate on Mashbury, which a tiny hamlet just east of Great Leighs.

Thomas Cornish married well, and note was taken of the family in the Visitation of Essex in 1552. He married Eden Hunt, daughter of John Hunt and Margaret de Pechey, no doubt a garbled version of a Norman name, and their son John was born in 1443. John married Agnes Waltham, daughter of Humphrey Waltham of Great Waltham, but only twin daughters were born to them.

Thomas and Eden (Hunt) had a second son William, born c.1445, who married and had at least one child, William born c.1470. He married and his son Richard was born c.1495. However it seems probable that there was another son born to the first William, as we find a Thomas Cornish living in Great Waltham, listed on the Lay Subsidy Roll of 1524, and his will probated 1552.

Robert the son of William of Mashbury, was only listed in the Visitation of 1552 as "having issue"; no details were given. And there is a gap in any information about the people in that small area until we get to the Assizes of 1561, when we find a Thomas Cornish giving evidence as witness in a murder trial on 30 March, giving as his address Great Leighs. It seems that on 26 September 1560 the body of an unknown woman was found by him in a wood called Hallewell Grove. The notation continues that a man called George Hunte "maliciously assaulted this unknown woman and struck her a mortal blow on the head with a bearinge bill worth 8d, from which she instantly died, and then he cut off both her arms and her legs. The jurors say that he murdered her."

Meanwhile, John Cornish in next door Great Waltham, wife's name unknown, began having a large family in 1569 with the birth of their eldest son Robert on 13 July. It would appear possible that this family moved to Aythorpe Roding sometime between 1575 & 1580, and he is the John whose daughter Joyce was born in 1580 and died in 1581. At the same time, Robert Cornish in Great Waltham had a son Christopher baptised 2 September 1571, and Thomas in 1573. The area, plus the repetitive forenames, would seem to imply that this was one family.

The next indication of the presence of a Cornish in Great Leighs is on 2 March 1584. Thomas Cornish (the witness of 1561 or his son?), together with James Holmested, charged Elizabeth Brook, spinster, with witchcraft. The deposition reads that on 1 October 1578 she bewitched six cows and six horses and mares worth ... belonging to James Holmested and one cow, five heifers and four hogs worth 10 belonging to J ... and two cows, two mares worth 5 belonging to Thomas Cornysshe so that they died. The notation ends with the cryptic remark that she confessed. Why it took them five and a half years to bring her to justice is no doubt something we will never know. The James Holmested mentioned is without doubt the father (1550-1595) of the James who married Joyce Cornish in 1605. We are, in fact, very likely looking at both fathers-in-law.

In 1602 Robert Cornish of Great Waltham, husbandman, was charged for keeping an alehouse without a licence "and doth lodge vagrant people and disordered persons." Nevertheless we must claim him; he is undoubtedly part of the same family.

In the Easter Assizes of 1611, Thomas Cornish of Great Leighs is again mentioned on the list of people endorsed for jury duty, together with Thomas Holmested. This may be the Thomas Olmested born in 1577, the older brother of James.

Thomas Cornish died some time before 1625 when he will was probated. He mentions only his wife Joan and his son John, 29 years at the time the will was written. If we are right about this being Joyce's father it is not surprising that she is not mentioned, since she died in 1621.

The evidence is circumstantial, but it is clear that Thomas Cornish and his wife Joan were on the spot at the right time, and were acquainted with the man whose son may have been their son-in-law. There was no other Cornish in the village. No records survive for the early births in Great Leighs, so there is no record of John, nor of Thomas's marriage to Joan, so there is no need to worry about not finding Joyce's. The Joyce who died in infancy across the fields at Aythorpe Roding was probably a cousin, and very likely the Joyce in Great Leighs was named after her.