Tag: Charlotte Letitia Pittman

Henry Keene Smithers, Non-Conformist

When my three-times great grandparents Henry Keene Smithers and Charlotte Letitia Pittman were married in 1809, the wedding took place at St. Martin in the Fields, London. It is a beautiful church, but it was probably not their first choice because it is an Anglican church and Henry was a non-conformist. Between 1754 and 1837, all marriages had to take place in the Church of England to be legally recognized, hence Henry’s and Charlotte’s Anglican ceremony.  

In England, non-conformists were members of Protestant denominations such as Congregational, Presbyterian and Baptist, rather than the established Church of England. These religions trace their histories to the 16thcentury, and their members were subjected to varying levels of persecution over the years. After the Act of Toleration was passed in 1689, non-conformists were allowed to have their own places of worship and schools as long as they took certain oaths of allegiance. 

Henry Keene Smithers

Once married, the Smithers attended a non-conformist Independent, or Congregational, church called Walworth Locks Fields Chapel in Southwark, Surrey. Congregationalists believe that the church congregation has the right to determine its own affairs. There is no church hierarchy, no bishops to tell members what to think or do. 

Henry may have been quite involved in this chapel, given that the couple’s children were baptized there. Henry and Charlotte had at least eight children: Henry Keene (1812-1874), Alfred (1814-1874), Francis Pittman (1815- ), Sophia Anne (1817-1883), George Clayton (1819-1821), John (1821-1893), Charles Francis (1822-1887) and Mary Keene (1827-1859). In fact, George Clayton Smithers appears to have been named after Lock Fields Chapel’s long-time minister.

(Their youngest son, Charles Francis Smithers, who was my great-great grandfather, is the only one of Henry’s and Charlotte’s children whose baptismal record I cannot find. He married in Waterford, Ireland in 1844 and immigrated to Canada, where he became a successful banker. He too brought up his children in the Congregational church.)  In the 1840s, Henry was secretary of the Society for the Relief of Widows and Children of Dissenting Ministers, a charity that supported families of deceased non-conformist ministers who were living in poverty.1

probably Charlotte L. Smithers

The Smithers family’s association with non-conformist beliefs seems to have been long-standing, Henry Keene Smithers was born on 3 July, 1785 in the City of London, and his birth was registered at Maze Pond, Southwark, a Baptist church, in 1789.2  The 1762 birth of his father, Henry, was also included in non-conformist records,3 but his mother, Sophia Papps, was baptized at the Anglican parish church in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in 1763.

Charlotte, Henry’s future wife, was born in Antigua around 1785. Her family were most likely Anglicans, but I have not seen a baptismal record for her, nor do I know when or why she moved to England.  

After they were married, census records show that Henry and Charlotte lived at various addresses in County Surrey, near London Bridge on the south bank of the Thames River. Today, this region has been swallowed up by the city. The family’s roots in Surrey also seem to run deep. Henry’s grandfather Joseph Smithers married Martha Keene in 1760 at St. Mary’s Church, Newington, Surrey.4 The fact they were married by licence is a hint that they too were non-conformists and not members of this Anglican parish.

Henry died in Peckham, Surrey, on April 23, 1859, age 73, and was buried at Norwood Cemetery, Lambeth. Charlotte lived the last two years of her life in Peckham with her widowed daughter Sophia Holton and two grandchildren. She died Aug. 10, 1861 and was buried in the same cemetery.

Research remarks

The birth and baptismal records of Henry Keene Smithers, and other non-conformist Smithers family members, can be found in the England & Wales Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 collection online on Ancestry.com. The Congregational church baptizes infants, so these records are for baptisms, however, Baptists perform adult baptisms, so the record for Henry Keene Smithers refers to his birthdate.

I obtained the date of birth of Charles Francis Smithers from the Smithers Family Book, privately published in 1985 by Elizabeth Marston Smithers. His family’s religious affiliation comes from the 1861 Census of Canada East.

All Church of England records I have mentioned are available through Ancestry.com in parish records or marriages and banns. The date of birth of Charlotte L. Smithers, is not available from parish records since they were not well preserved in Antigua. The source of her place of birth and age are taken from the 1851 England Census, accessed through Ancestry.com. She was also recorded in the 1861 England Census.

The fact that Henry was involved with a group that helped the families of dissenting ministers is revealed in a directory of London charitable organizations.

Regarding the small cameo portraits of Henry Keene Smithers and his wife, Charlotte, they belong to one of my cousins, and are framed together with similar images of Charles Francis Smithers and his wife, Martha Bagnall Shearman. They are identified on the back of the common frame, but the one I believe to be Charlotte L. Smithers is identified as “Miss Richardson.” I have yet to come across anyone named Richardson in the family tree, so I am assuming the unknown person who supplied this information many years ago was wrong.

For more information about Henry Keene Smithers, see http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/49405444/person/12982389981, the Smither, Smithers, Smythers Public Member Tree on Ancestry.com, edited by Michael Smither.


  1. The Metropolitan Charities: Being an Account of the Charitable, Benevolent, and Religious Societies; Hospitals, Dispensaries, Penitentiaries, Annuity Funds, Asylums, Almshouses, Colleges, and Schools in London and Its Immediate Vicinity. London: Sampson Low, 1844 (Google eBook), p.61.
  2. England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970,” Ancestry.com (http//:www.ancestry.com: accessed 29 Nov. 2014), entry for Henry Keene Smithers, 3 July, 1785, London; citing General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857. Records of the General Register Office, Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, Registrar General (RG) 4. The National Archives, Kew, England.
  3. England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970, database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 1 Dec. 2014), entry for Henry Smithers, 7 Aug. 1762, London; citing: General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857. Records of the General Register Office, Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, Registrar General (RG) 4. The National Archives, Kew, England.
  4. London, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812 database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 29 Nov. 2014), entry for Joseph Smithers, 19 March, 1760, Southwark; citing Church of England Parish Registers, 1538-1812. London, England: London Metropolitan Archives; St Mary, Newington, Composite register: marriages, banns, May 1754-Jul 1769, P92/MRY/010

The Elmes of Antigua

There were no hints or family stories to prepare me for what I found in the 1851 Census of England. I was looking for my three-times great grandparents Henry Keene Smithers and his wife Charlotte Letitia (Pittman) Smithers in Sussex, England. I had already found their 1809 marriage record at St Martin in the Fields Church in London, and it had said that Charlotte was from Barnes, a parish located near the mouth of the Thames River. So when the census revealed that Charlotte was actually born in Antigua, in the British West Indies, I was surprised.

I was also curious. Was her father perhaps in the British navy, which had a large base there? Or did her family own a sugar plantation? The History of the Island of Antigua, written by Vere Langford Oliver and published in 1894, provided the answer: Charlotte’s ancestors, the Elmes family, had lived in Antigua for more than a century and had been planters for several generations. 

According to Oliver, the first mention of the family name appeared in 1654 when John Elmes owed £100 to the Dutch merchants. Thirteen years later, Thomas Elmes and four other people were granted 65 acres of land on Antigua. He acquired more land over the next dozen years. Oliver noted that St. Phillip’s Parish Church registered the 1698 marriage of the man who was probably his son or grandson: Thomas Elmes married Mary Marchant in 1698 and the couple had two children. He was buried in 1745.

the Elmes family tree, by Vere Langford Oliver

Thomas Elmes II married Mary Ann Monk in 1734. Oliver transcribed his 1745 will, a document that revealed something of his personal and financial situation. To his wife he left  ”a negro woman, a horse and jewels.” He made arrangements for money to support his four minor children, and he granted freedom to his mulatto boy Joicey – no doubt his son by one of the plantation slaves. His son Thomas was to inherit the estate. 

He added a codicil a few years later, noting that his wife was now deceased and “my fortune increased and the number of my children decreased, therefore each child’s portion is to be £2000.” Thomas II died in 1755, leaving vacant his seat in the colony’s Assembly. 

Thomas and Mary Ann’s son, Thomas Elmes III, married twice.  In 1761 he wed Letitia Cusack, daughter of Dr. Patrick Cusack and Lettice Lewis. Oliver noted that the Cusack family was from Gerrardstown and Clonard in Ireland. 

Windmill and outbuilding on an old plantation in Barbados, showing the base of the windmill used to grind the sugar cane. photo by Janice Hamilton

Letitia gave birth to two daughters, Letitia and Mary, but they were left motherless when she died in 1763. Thomas’s second wife was Elizabeth Harmon, with whom he had a son, Thomas, and a daughter, Dorothy. Thomas Elmes IV, was the last in the male line and had no children.

Thomas III’s and Letitia’s daughter Letitia Elmes married Francis Pittman in 1782 at St. John’s Parish Church, Antigua. The couple had two daughters, Anne and Charlotte. This branch of the family tree in Oliver’s book concluded with the marriage of Charlotte Letitia Pittman to Henry Keene Smithers. 

Thomas Elmes III died in 1776. As for the Elmes plantation, it had been sold by 1770. In 1779 it was recorded as containing 149 acres. A volunteer researcher with the Museum of Antigua & Barbuda noted on an online message board in 2007 that the sugar mill on the property was still in good shape and that the property, located in St. Phillip’s Parish, on the island’s east side, is still called the Elmes Estate.

Research notes

The three-volume The History of the Island of Antigua, by Vere Langford Oliver, was published in 1894. Information about the Elmes family tree, on pages 243 and 244 of Volume I, can be found at https://archive.og/stream/historyofislando01oliv#page/243/mode/2up

Oliver was a historian whose books are considered invaluable by people trying to track down their white West Indian ancestors because he transcribed many deteriorating records, and he outlined family trees for some of Antigua’s prominent planter families. Although the churches of the British-owned Caribbean islands recorded the births, marriages and deaths of their parishioners, many of these original documents succumbed to dampness, insects, rodents, fires, hurricanes and earthquakes. 

Oliver must have had difficulty reading the documents he found, and some records must have been missing, resulting in gaps in the Elmes family tree. The tree does not meet today’s high standards of genealogical proof but, despite these flaws, I am extremely lucky to have these records. 

My Ancestor Settled in the British West Indies, a guide to sources for family historians written by John Titford and published by the Society of Genealogists Enterprises Ltd, London, 2011, can help you track down your ancestors in the British West Indies. It gives brief histories of the islands and lists books, websites and record repositories in the Caribbean and the U.K. If your local family history society library does not have a copy, you can order one from www.globalgenealogy.com.