The Mystery of the Mayo Family

May 1, 2006

The name Mayo has long associations with Fontmell Magna. It is quite a complicated story, but worth pursuing if you have the patience. It is a good example of how families appear and then disperse, how they can dominate a community and then almost evaporate, as it were. What follows, therefore, is not a definitive family history. There are lots of unanswered questions to which, perhaps, some readers may wish to contribute information.

EARLY SOURCES

St Andrew's Church

St Andrew's Church

The earliest Fontmell Magna document we can trace is the Will of CHARLES MAYO dated 1695. How long the family had lived here we are not sure, but it was probably not earlier than from the 1660s, for they did not appear in the 1641 Protestation Returns or the 1664 Hearth Tax returns. However, the family name appears throughout the 18th century. For example, MARY MAYO married Phillip Wareham in 1739; CHARLES MAYO married Mary Monckton in 1746; and JAMES MAYO married Hannah Foot in 1750. A little later, Charles and James Mayo were paying rates towards the relief of the poor in 1759, and again in 1772. Mary Mayo made a will in 1729 and James Mayo one in 1768.
James and Hannah’s children included JOHN MAYO (who married Mary West in 1784), and WILLIAM MAYO (who married Hannah Still from Compton Abbas in the same year). It is William’s family that demands our full attention. But first let us set the Fontmell scene.

THE 19th CENTURY
By the beginning of the 19th century the whole Mayo family was

Mayo's Farm House

Mayo's Farm

very well-established in Fontmell and a farm in North Street was now called Mayo’s Farm. When Lord Arundell sold his property in the village to the Glyn family in 1807, the records show that Charles, Elizabeth, James senior and James junior, William, John, Joseph, Mary and Thomas Mayo all occupied properties. However, sorting out who was who, and who lived where, is made more difficult by the recurring first names of Thomas, Charles, James and John.

Sawmill in Church Street

Sawmill in Church Street, Moore's Farm is at the top left

Back to William and Hannah. Their eldest son MORRIS JAMES (or James Morris) MAYO was born in 1787 and in 1829 he married Sarah Moggeridge from East Orchard (just west of Fontmell) where her family had farmed for many years. But in the 1841 census he was the farmer at Moore’s Farm in Fontmell. This meant that three adjacent farms were all managed by the Mayos. Morris and Sarah had two children John, born in 1831 in Fontmell, and Sarah born in 1833 in Fontmell, but neither child appears in the 1841 or 1851 censuses. We think this was because Morris also had a farm in East Orchard, at the western boundary of the Fontmell parish. That is where his children were registered in the 1841 census. Moore’s Farm had in fact been in the hands of the Haskell family throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and the Haskells were back at Moore’s farmhouse by 1851.
William’s and Hannah’s second child was THOMAS (WILLIAM) MAYO. He was born in about 1788 and he married Mary (1785-1844) and they had 8 surviving children: Betty (or Betsy) was born in Fontmell in 1812 and was still here in the 1841 and1851 censuses. She later married Thomas Bastable and moved to Motcombe, near Shaftesbury; James (1814-1898) became a shoemaker and married Maria Rideout in Fontmell in 1848, and they also later moved to Motcombe; Ann, born in Fontmell in1816, married Edgar Bennett from outside the county; the fourth child, Thomas (1818-1891) has a particularly interesting story, to which we will return later; the fifth child William born about 1821, appeared in the 1841 census but cannot be traced after that; the sixth child, John born in 1823, also disappears from the records after 1851; the story of the sixth child, Charles born in 1827, is directly linked to that of his brother Thomas, and so we will also come back to him later; the youngest child was Jeremiah (1829-1891) who remained unmarried and later also moved to Motcombe. Thomas, the father of this large family, was still farming in 1861 when he was recorded as having 61 acres, still at Mayo’s Farm in North Street. After that we lose trace of him.

Middle Farm

Middle Farm

William’s and Hannah’s third son was CHARLES MAYO (1797-1873). He was described as a Yeoman in the 1841 census, and farmed, on a bigger scale than Thomas, at Middle Farm which in 1861 had 300 acres and provided 10 men and 5 boys with employment. He married Emily Bolls (1817-1858) from Hilton, Dorset. They had three children: Charles John Bolls Mayo, born in 1845 in Fontmell and died in the local parish of Cann in 1877; Emily Mary (1846-1890); and James William, born in Fontmell in 1849. We have no later information on the children.
But we know more about their father. On

The Union Workhouse Shaftesbury

The Union Workhouse Shaftesbury

Wednesday 14th October 1835, the first meeting of the Board of Guardians of the Shaftesbury Workhouse took place in the Shaftesbury Town Hall. The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 had set up Boards of Guardians, and those present were the appointed Guardians from each of the 22 local parishes of the ‘union’. Fontmell Magna’s Guardian was Charles Mayo, who was himself paying £51 Poor Law Rate in 1840, or roughly £2300 in today’s money.

MISSING PERSONS
So now we can return to Thomas and

Pump Cottage

Pump Cottage

Mary’s children and especially the two brothers, THOMAS and CHARLES. You will recall that we rather lost track of them in the 1850s. But Charles appeared again in the1881 census, living as a border and farm servant in the village. This seemed more than a little surprising. Why was a member of one of the richest farming families in the village now reduced to such relative poverty? And where had he been? Further more, by 1891 and 1901 he was still lodging, still unmarried, and still working as a general labourer. A clue to his missing years came quite by chance. We were working on the story of Charlie Andrews (which appears elsewhere on our website) when we came across a phrase that we did not immediately fully appreciate. Charlie Andrews recalled ‘a man living here by the name of Charles Mayo who used to be a slave driver in his younger days, and how we used to look in awe at the whip he used.’ At first we thought that the commonly used ‘slave driver’ simply meant that he made the farm hands work hard. But what if it was to be taken literally? Where could he have spent his ‘younger days’? Where would an Englishman come in contact with slaves in the 1850s? The West Indies? Or perhaps America?
A bit of internet surfing soon came up with the answer. The southern states of the US have hundreds (thousands?) of Mayo families all looking for their ancestors. Of course a lot were connected with Ireland, but a significant number were related to West Country families and especially Dorset families. And there indeed was a family tracing its origins back to Fontmell Magna. There, conspicuously, were the names of Thomas and Mary whose descendants are now spread all over Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Florida. Thomas and Charles Mayo had arrived in New Jersey and settled in Petersburg, Virginia. And when was this? In the years leading up to the Civil War, in the years when the southern states tolerated slavery. So Charles could well have been an actual slave driver. The Confederacy of southern states was formed in 1860 and the Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865. Petersburg was the site of a major battle. Did Thomas and Charles both fight on the side of the Confederacy?
Thomas married Sallie Frances Stevens in 1864. They had eight children between 1865 and 1884. Thomas was 66 when his last child was born. He died in Halifax, Virginia (about 90 miles west of Petersburg) in 1891 at the age of 72. His younger brother Charles returned to England in 1871 and settled in Fontmell again, but now as a lodger in a single room in a small cottage rather than in the big farm house of his childhood. He was still alive in 1901 (when he would have been about 74), but we have no trace of him after that.

SOME (VERY) LOOSE ENDS?

Middle Farm 1899

We have not so far accounted for two other entries in the 1841 census. There is a JOHN MAYO who was entered as the Manor Bailiff for Sir Richard Glyn. He was living in Lurmer Street, probably at Middle Farm, where Charles Mayo (1797-1873) was the farmer. John was entered as aged 40, but this census was notorious for recording decades rather than actual years. So we have not been able to pin down his relationship with the other members of the family. We also lose contact with him in the 1840s. In addition to farming, one member of the family was an unmarried shopkeeper in Church Street, called MARY MAYO. She was born in 1787 in Fontmell and was still active in 1861.
The name Mayo is found in the

Map of Fontmell Magna district

Map of Fontmell Magna district

records of several locations around Fontmell, but particularly in the parish of Cann, about three miles north of Fontmell, and where the title Mayo’s Farm still appears on maps (some records refer to ‘Mayo’s or Cann House’). There the records go back to Richard Mayo (1543-1602) and his wife Joane who appear to have had 8 surviving children. A family line through their eldest son William and his wife Agnes (Newman) takes us to John (1589-1640) and Eleanor (Bishop), and then to William (d. 1693) and Martha. Between 1563 and 1656 the baptismal register for Cann regularly had Mayo entries. But then nothing until 1823. We suspect that there was a connection between the Mayos of Cann and the Mayos of Fontmell, but so far we do not have the documentary evidence. Perhaps our readers can help?

We are already grateful for the information kindly provided by Mrs Margaret Taylor from Australia. She is related to the James Morris Mayo, eldest son of William and Hannah, whose large family feature so conspicuously throughout this article.

Author: Ian Lawrence