Wilders Revisited

by Ralph Clark

See also

Notice: This is a rough draft of a work in progress

It is provided here for use as an introduction to the ideas herein.

The ancestry of the children of the 1639 immigrant widow, Martha Wilder, and her New England relatives, has been obsured in fantasy and confusion. This article intends to bring the light of historical documents to illuminate the problem.

The original genealogist of this family, Rev. Moses Wilder, in his 1878 Book of the Wilders, introduced the patriarch of the line, Nicholas Wilder of Bohemia. Nicholas was a hero of the battle of Bosworth, where he helped the Earl of Richmond, later Henry VII, overthrow Richard III. Some doubt may accrue to this legend from the discovery of twenty two Richards among the descendants of Nicholas in the 1500s, and only two named Henry.

Rev. Moses reported that on 17 April 1497 King Henry VII honored Nicholas for his loyal service with a grant of arms and with an estate in Berkshire. Actually, The Victoria History of Berkshire traces the owners, which is to say, the holders of the primary grant from the king, of the estates occupied by the Wilders, from the 1300s to the early 1600s before noting that one of the Wilders bought Nunhide in 1632. Prior to that time, the Wilders in possession of the estates were yeoman tenants of the primary grantees.

Furthermore, William Berry's Encyclopedia Heraldica says that the initial grant of the arms associated with the Wilder name was made to one John Wilder of Nunhide. If it was this same John Wilder who received, in partnership with several others, a grant of use of several estates, including Sulham, sometime before 1491, then for the arms to descend to modern times, Nicholas must have been John's son. It is entirely possible that the grant of arms came to a later John Wilder of Nunhide. Such legends often combine various events into one principal hero.

The legend of the hero of Bosworth may have been attributed by such a combination. Was there a heroic Nicholas at Bosworth Field, on 22 August 1485? Well, maybe so, but perhaps not a Wilder. From the late 1300s, the manor of Sulham, and other nearby estates, were held by the Carew family, in the person of four successive heads of family named Nicholas. The last Nicholas Carew is said to have reached the age of majority in 1484, and died without issue in 1485. If he was in the battle, as a holder of several manors he would have led a substantial force of his tenants, and could well have held the rank of captain.

Revd. Moses gave the following descent from Nicholas to Martha's children:

Revd. Moses Wilder evidently gathered his information on the English family through correspondence with the incumbent proprietor of the estates of Sulham and Nunhide. The first three names in the above table are real men whose wills survive in the public records. They are quite likely the ancestors of Rev. Moses's English correspondent.

Confusion seems to have arisen when trying to connect this line to the Wilder family of Shiplake in Oxfordshire. We may imagine the following dialog:

and so it was natural to infer that the ancestors of the incumbent of Sulham were also those of Revd. Moses, through the immigrant Martha's husband.

What seems to have been overlooked was the fact that a manor at Shiplake (one of three in that parish) had only come into the Wilder family by marriage in the mid-1700s. There is really no known documented connection between the Wilders of Sulham or Nunhide, in Berkshire in the 1600s, and the separate family of Wilders residing in the parish of Shiplake, in Oxfordshire at that time. It is likely that these branches of the family diverged sometime in the early 1500s.

One of my own correspondents once insisted that Rev. Moses must have examined deeds and parish registers when he constructed his family tree. In his Preface to Book of the Wilders, Rev. Moses wrote:

It appears that many of his descendants dismissed this as simple modesty, when, I believe, he meant it literally.