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Birthdates of the Children of John Willis and Esther Brinton of Thornbury, PA

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Date: About 1693 to about 1708
Location: Thornbury Township, Chester, Pennsylvania, United Statesmap
Surnames/tags: Willis Brinton
Profile manager: David Willis private message [send private message]
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There are no known records of the birthdates of the children of John Willis and Esther Brinton of Thornbury Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. The following estimates are from indirect evidence:

  1. William - 1693
  2. Mary - 1695
  3. Ann - 1697
  4. JohnII - 1698
  5. Henry - 1700
  6. Esther - 1702
  7. Edward - 1704
  8. Sarah - 1706
  9. Benjamin - 1708

Sources used for these estimates include the following:

1. An estimate of the marriage date of their parents, John and Esther
2. The sequence of names in the will of their father, John
3. The sequence of names listed by John's nephew Samuel Willis
4. Their marriage dates
5. The year of their first appearance on a tax list
6. Consistency with the Quaker naming custom

These are explained below.

1. An estimate of the marriage date of their parents, John and Esther

A reasonable estimate of the date that John and Esther married is 1692 or 1693. The record of John’s purchase of his homestead land in Thornbury, dated September 30, 1692, states that John was already living on it.[1]. According to a genealogy written in 1760 by John's nephew Samuel Willis, John moved there "when he reached the state of a man", and John's father "was helpful in Purchaseing some Land there I think the place is called Thornbury...."[2]. John, who was born in 1669, may have accompanied his father, Henry Willis, on his trip from Long Island to Philadelphia in the summer of 1692, when Henry was one of the 28 Quaker leaders who convened in Philadelphia in June and July to deal with a serious threat to the Quaker establishment, the Keith controversy.[3]

2. The sequence of names in the will of their father, John

In his 1745 will, John listed his wife and children in the following order:

"…. to my beloved wife Esther, the Plantation I now live on with all the improvements thereon containing about 270 or thereabout acres of land with all and singular my personal estate that I now possess….
…to my son Benjamin Willis…the remaining part of my plantation and above what may be made use of by my executors to pay my just debts be it less or more to be put in possession at the decease of his mother before mentioned. I leave all encumerances whatsoever.
…to my son Henry Willis…1 shilling
…unto my daughter Mary the wife of John Wall... 1 shilling
…to Joseph Webb the husband of my daughter Anna…1 shilling
…to my son John Willis’ son John…1 shilling [John had died in 1732.]
…to my daughter Esther the wife of Stephen Foulk…1 shilling
…the surviving children of my son Edward…3 shillings [Edward had died in 1732.]
…to my daughter Sarah, the wife of Thomas Ward…1 shilling."

Benjamin and Henry were the only two of John's five sons who were still living. They are listed first. Benjamin is mentioned immediately after discussing his mother's inheritance, which was to be passed on to Benjamin after her decease.

3. The sequence of names listed by John's nephew Samuel Willis

in Samuel Willis's genealogy, he listed the names of John's children, first the sons, then the daughters:

"I think his sons were William John Henry Edward & Benjamin he also had several Daughters Viz: Mary, Ann, Sarah, & Ester."

The sequence in which Samuel lists the names differs slightly from the sequence given in John’s will.

4. Their marriage dates

Inference about the children's birth sequence can be drawn from information about their marriage dates:

William - died young and did not marry, according to Samuel Willis.
Mary - married John Wall probably about 1715.[4]
Ann - married Joseph Webb in 1722.[5]
John Jr. - married the widow Mary (Webb) Browne on 22 Jun 1721.[6]
Henry - marriage date unknown; eldest child Joseph born roughly 1725.[7]
Esther - The dates of her birth and marriage (Stephen Foulke) are unknown.
Edward - married Catherine Maris in 1726.
Sarah - The dates of her birth and marriage (Thomas Ward) are unknown.
Benjamin - no information

5. The year of their first appearance on a tax list

In early tax records for Chester County, property owners are listed, not tithes. One cannot be certain about a man’s age based on the year his name first appears. John’s sons first appeared in Chester County tax records on the following dates:

John Jr. - 1719 (Thornbury Township)
Henry - 1721 (Bradford Township)
Edward - 1726 (Thornbury Township, with his father, John)
Benjamin - 1740 (Thornbury Township, with his father, John)

6. Consistency with the Quaker naming custom

A custom Quakers sometimes followed at the time was to name the first-born son after the wife’s father (in this case, William Brinton) and the first-born daughter after the husband’s mother Mary Pearce). This Quaker naming convention is explained in the following quote from historian David Hackett Fischer:

Unlike New England Puritans, Quakers named their first-born children after [the child’s] grandparents. Unlike Virginia Anglicans, they were careful to honor maternal and paternal lines in an even-handed way.…The concern for equality was carried to the point of double-reversing the naming order for children of different genders, so that the first-born female commemorated the father’s line, and the eldest male followed the maternal line.[8]

Based on this and other evidence that Mary was the eldest daughter, John’s children would have been named in the following sequence if the Quaker naming custom were strictly followed:

1. William (Esther’s father)
2. Henry (John’s father)
3. John (John himself)

1. Mary (John’s mother)
2. Ann (Esther’s mother)
3. Esther (Esther herself)

Under the Quaker naming custom Henry should be older than John, but the Quaker naming custom was not always followed.


The birthdates of John’s children were estimated (1) assuming that John and Esther were married about 1692, (2) using available indirect evidence for birth order, and (3) assuming the children were born about two years apart.

The evidence for who was older--John Jr. or Henry-- is inconclusive:

The sequence of names in the will of their father, John - favors Henry
The sequence of names listed by John's nephew Samuel Willis - favors John Jr.
Their marriage dates - favors John Jr.
The year of their first appearance on a tax list - favors John Jr.
Consistency with the Quaker naming custom - favors Henry


  1. Minute Book G (Commissioners of Philadelphia), Penn Archives, 2nd Series, December 18, 1701.
  2. Darlington, Oscar G. "The Willis-Titus-Mott Genealogy,” The Nassau County Historical Journal, vol. 4, 1941, pages 26–38.
  3. The Judgment Given forth by Twenty Eight Quakers Against George Keith, and his Friends, “printed in Pennsylvania; and now Re-printed at London,” Richard Baldwin, Warwick Lane, 1694; copy contained in Frost, J. William, The Keithian Controversy in Early Pennsylvania, Norwood Editions, 1980.
  4. The date of Mary's marriage is an estimate. On November 4, 1714, Mary Willis accompanied her parents as guests at the marriage of John Palmer Jr. of Concord and Martha Yearsley of Thornbury (Concord MM Marriages, 1698 - 1783, LDS microfilm 20457, Item 8). This was sometimes done when the daughter was soon going to be married, and in fact the same was done for Mary's sister Ann.
  5. Minutes of the Chichester (Concord) Monthly Meeting, Chester County, Pennsylvania, 8 Oct 1722, LDS microfilm 20386.
  6. Minutes of the Chichester (Concord) Monthly Meeting, 3 Jul 1721, LDS microfilm 20386.
  7. Joseph was the eldest of Henry's eight children, the youngest of whom, Isaiah, was born in 1742, plus or minus a few months.
  8. Fischer, David Hackett. Albion’s Seed. Oxford University Press, 1989, page 506.

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