My earliest traceable ancestor on my mother’s side of the family is Peter Conway, who was born circa 1732, and died in 1794 in Wivenhoe, after a life of considerable success.
Started as a Footman
His time in Wivenhoe seems to have begun when he was employed – probably as a footman – by Mr Samuel Martin of Wivenhoe, the son of Captain Matthew Martin, of the Dutch East India Company. Peter obviously took a shine to Samuel’s maidservant, Elizabeth Holmes, and the couple became engaged. Samuel Martin, in his will of 1761, made his feelings of affection for them very clear. He left Elizabeth an annuity of twenty pounds a year, and two tenements “bought of the trustees of Daniel Cock”. These tenements were hers for life, after which they reverted to Samuel’s brother, Thomas Martin. Additionally, Elizabeth and Peter received a gift of a further twenty pounds, possibly as a wedding gift. By the standards of the day, and given the purchasing power of the pound, this was an astoundingly generous bequest, and set the Conways on the right road for life. Samuel Martin had never married, and appreciated Elizabeth’s care and tenderness. The legacy, he said was “a reward for her trouble during my long ill state of health”.
Rose to prosperity
Peter flourished, acquiring farms, livestock, a coal-yard, various houses, and even a share in a brandy warehouse in London! He became an Overseer of the Poor, making sure that he claimed expenses when he had to travel to Colchester to obtain goods for the workhouse (2pr silk hose and a change of horse at Colchester”!). He had married his Elizabeth in 1762, obtaining a Special Licence – the ultimate status symbol for those who could afford it – and the couple had at least three children, Sarah, Elizabeth – who died in infancy – and Peter, who inherited most of his father’s wealth, when Peter snr. died in 1794.
Buried in St Mary’s Churchyard
Peter Conway and his wife are buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, their headstone now illegible and standing against the east wall of the churchyard. When he died, Peter Conway, Merchant of Wivenhoe, left staggering amounts of money and interest on various loans, and – a charming touch- “the sum of four guineas to my nurse, Susannah Woods, so she may have a gown at my decease”.
In around forty years, this ordinary yet extraordinary man – this humble footman – had risen through society like a shooting-star, the equal of the ‘movers and shakers’ of the time, men like Phillip Lay, the Bawtrees, Captain Daniel Harvey of the ‘Repulse’, and Nicholas Corsellis. Sadly, “to every dog his day”, springs to mind, and the Conways were gone from Wivenhoe by the early nineteenth century. Today, they are forgotten, except by Peter’s 4x great grandson – the author of this little snippet!
[see Samuel Martin’s will here]