Thomas and Jane Waller Sherman
Jane “Waller” Sherman
"Never underestimate the power of a woman with Stavys and Stonys"
One thing in general men tend to lose sight of when delving into family history are the women. They are often overlooked and get little credit for their contributions. Women, as we men frequently forget, are the ones who bear the children, rear the children, then exhaust themselves with infinite domestic duties. For centuries most women have tolerated this scripturally supported second class role.
I thank the Almighty daily I was born with body chemistry not subject to the cycles of the moon, or breasts capable of suckling an infant. There will probably be some kind of karmic comeuppance in my next life for dodging this bullet if Edgar Cayce is actually on to something. In some piteous attempt at righting an egregious wrong, I am dedicating this blog--not to Thomas Sherman, my fourteenth great-grandfather--but to his wife, Jane Waller.
If you are a woman in the Sherman family, a descendant of Thomas Sherman, then you are just as equally a descendant of his wife, Jane Waller Sherman. There is not a lot of information about her, but enough to know that if you were to pick a fight with her, you'd better be wearing some protective gear. If, from time to time, you feel combative and determined to take a strong defensive stand, you may be carrying one of Jane Waller’s warrior genes, if, in fact, there is such a gene.
Thomas Sherman was an attorney-at-law with a large practice in the Court of Common Pleas. He was lord of several manors; church warden of Yaxley, and Deputy Sheriff in 1540 and 1546. The court records show he was once a defendant himself when a suit was brought against him for unpaid rent on an acre of land owned by Sir John Wiseman. At this period of English history, most Knights had abandoned their armor and weapons and had become landowners who owned plows and farming equipment.
The following court document, given in Star Chamber proceedings in 1530, reveals what happened when Sir John Wiseman, knighted by King Henry VII, tried to seize some of Thomas Sherman's property as restitution for unpaid rent. The complaint shows that his wife, Jane Waller Sherman, would be a poor choice to snatch a purse from, or in this case, seize property from. Sir John should have donned his old breast plate and helmet and charged over to the Sherman property himself instead of sending his incompetent lackeys.
Thomas had plenty of money, so it remains a mystery why he neglected or refused to pay rent to Sir John. There is no record I can find beyond the complaint, so if Jane was fined or received punishment for attacking the Knights men, it is unknown. Also unknown is whether Sir John ever received any rent moneys from the Sherman's.
I'm leaving some of the old style English, which I find interesting and challenging. I've put in parenthesis the modern word when it might help. Someone in the past has modernized the first part of the complaint to make it more readable. You might also note the difference in the way the dates are written in the 15th Century.
The English "Star Chamber" where Sir John filed his complaint against Thomas Sherman was established to ensure the fair enforcement of laws against socially or politically prominent people so powerful that ordinary courts would probably hesitate to convict them of their crimes. Here is the complaint as filed in 1530:
"In Star Chamber Proceedings is a bill of complaint of Sir John Wiseman, Knight, against Thomas Sherman of Yaxley, stating that on 22 April, 22 Henry VHI (1530), complainant sent two of his servants to distrain (take hold of property for unpaid rent) of an acre of land in Gors Close, co. Suffolk, part of the manor of Swattyshall owned by complainant, which rent Sherman had refused to pay for three years; that said servants seized by way of distress a plow with four horses; and that as they were driving in the King's highway, Johannes (Jane Sherman) and Margery Hege, with staves in their hands, and certain other riotous persons "mad a saute (assault) & fray upon the said ij (?) servants & put them in daunger of their lyvis & grevously (sp) did bete (bite) William Erysshe & take away the said distress from them." Afterwards, on 24 April, 23 Henry VHI (1531) complainant's servants again distrained the plow and horses "but as they came thetherward, mette with them by the way, Johanne Sherman, the wyff of Thomas Sherman, Thomas Dykon and Margery Hedge with Stavys & Stonys in their lappys, as well as other servants of said Thomas Sherman, who with force & armis (malice?) did fyght with them & them did bett, wond & ill intret."(treated ill?)
It appears that Jane Waller Sherman was not a passive ‘lady of the manor’ caught up in domestic household tasks. She was actively busy in the down and dirty details of managing the many farm and rental properties the Sherman's owned. It makes one wonder who was making the beds that Thomas eventually willed to her, or who put the dishes away in the cupboards after the meal, while Jane was out on the King’s Highway beating and biting the toadies of Sir John Wiseman?
I’ve printed only parts of Thomas Sherman's will below with its original old style English. There are confusing words like letill, that may be out of use completely, but I’ve put in parentheses the modern meanings of some of the old terms. Thomas left considerable property to his wife Jane. Anything less, in my opinion, would have been unpardonable.
Thomas Sherman 1490-1551
Born in Yaxley in Suffolk County, England
I give to the high aulter of the seyd churche for my tithes forgotten or to letill paid three shillings, four pence. Also I bequeathe and will have delt and gevyn to the poor people within the Town of Yaxley six shillings eight pence. Also to the poor people within the towne of Eye ten shillings.Also to the poore people of the towne of Thrandeston Burgate Diss and Roydon three shilling four pence.Also I bequeath to Jane my wief my messuages (homes) wherein I dwell with all other of my messuages, lands, tenements, meadowys, pastures, woodes, weyes and herditaments (rental property) in Yaxlee and Eye aforsaid, lying and being on the Est syde of the wey leding from Norwich to Ham [Horham] for the terme of her life of the whyche close the same my sister ys nowe in posession.Also I give and bequeath to Jane my wief tenne combes of wheate twentie combes of malte, eighte Keyne (cows), fiftie shepe, foure horsse at her chose, and the one half of all my swyn and pultery.Also I will that Jane my wief shall have the use and occupieing of my two bedsteds and beddes now standing and being upon the newe chanber with the coveryings and all other things to the said bedds belonging with a cobord and seles [cupboard & shelves] on the said chamber (for the) terme of her lyfe and after her decease to remayne to Thomas my son and to his assigns.
I could have gone back further than Thomas Sherman of Yaxley, but you have to draw a line somewhere. It's interesting that almost all of the Sherman ancestors in our line lived within a radius of twenty miles, in the four neighboring villages of Diss, Yaxley, Colchester, and Dedham. Most of the Sherman's who came to America between 1630 and 1640 are descendants of Henry Sherman, the son of Thomas Sherman and Jane Waller.
Henry Sherman lived in Dedham, an old clothier town that went back to Roman times, and the Parish Register in Dedham is full of vital records of the Sherman's. Many Sherman's remained in England and the register in Dedham shows when they were born, who they married, and if they were buried in the churchyard there.
One of the sons of Henry, Edmund Sherman, wills a field and a tenement (dwelling) for the purpose of establishing a grammar school in Dedham. The tenement was intended to house the schoolmaster. The will continues, and provides means for the schoolmaster to freely teach one poor child per year, the child to be selected by Edmund's heirs forever. Edmund's house was near the Saint Mary's church gate in Dedham. Opposite the church, there is a building called "Sherman's Hall."
If the tides are favorable, I will post something about our Sherman ancestors who in 1634 bravely walked up the ramp of one of those less than seaworthy ships with sails set for America, leaving their comfortable English countryside for the sake of religious freedom. In the meantime, raise a glass of mead, and toast the unheralded women in your ancestry like Jane Waller Sherman, a good one to have at your back in a brawl.