Thomas Hanks

In Search of Thomas Hanks

If a visitor to England believes the Great Western Railway, and so far as I know its word is good, it is possible to leave London in the morning and to arrive at Malmesbury at a more or less certain hour in the afternoon. But when he looks at a railway map of England, and sees where Malmesbury is, and how many junction points there are, he loses faith in the ability of any locomotive to find its way, and decides to motor the hundred miles. When he arrives in Malmesbury by this or any other route, and sees the train hesitatingly enter the town, he is ready to say that it may have happened to get there this time, but he is not sure that it can ever do so again. As for me, I travelled the first time by auto-mobile from the once gay and still interesting town of Bath, and from there went on by way of Stonehenge and Old Sarum to Salisbury. The famed Salisbury Plain seems more depopulated than ever with its rows of empty huts where the soldier boys of England and of America spent many muddy weeks in the days of the late unpleasantness; and the solemn Druid circle at Stonehenge stands more isolated than ever.

I went to Malmesbury because it is believed to have been the ancestral home of the “family by the name of Hanks” from which Abraham Lincoln somewhat reluctantly admitted his descent. But Malmesbury has other interests. Indeed, there are few towns in England that better repay a visit. Being a little less than one hundred miles from London, it is not far out of the way, and in the old days it was on or very near the Fosse Road, one of the old Roman thoroughfares. It has its honourable place in early Saxon history, and in very much that has occurred in almost every period of the life of the English people. Its special interest for American students is the occasion of the present writing, but few of them find it. Indeed, in a recent American book of travel in England, I find this old town favoured with a chapter, but without a name. The author of that book, who apparently did not suspect its chief interest for Americans, said that the town was so quaint and interesting he did not wish to spoil it by making it too easy for the curious to find their way thither.

I was told that it is possible to get into Malmesbury without going down a hill and up a hill and across a bridge, but I did not find any such way. Entering it from a northerly direction, as one does in coming from Bath or Oxford or London, one discovers the town to be located on a kind of promontory between the branches of the Avon. The two streams almost meet above the town, turn their backs on each other, then reconsider and decide to try it again. So they meet below the village. The town is almost an island, and it stands high. The railway has to enter it by way of a tunnel and one or more bridges.

And so one comes to the Market Cross, one of the most interesting in England. It is “made al of stone, and curiously voulted for poore market folkes to stand dry when rayne cummith. Ther be 8 great pillars, and 8 open arches, and the work is 8 square: one great pillar in the middle berith up the voulte,” as an ancient description accurately informs us. It has a central column crowned by a finial, with eight flying buttresses ornamented by statues.

If you turn to the left at the Market Cross, past the tower of what once was a church, but now is a belfry in one parish, used to call pious folk to church in another parish, you shall observe at what is presumably the most dangerous of all old Malmesbury’s street corners, and there are others, a municipal mirror placed so as to enable you to see who is likely to run you down at the corner. Pass under the mirror, and go down steps one story in total height, and you confront a plain door in an interesting old house, and on the door, almost obliterated by long generations of shining, a brass plate bearing the name HANKS. We will go there later. For there live the present resident members of the family that Abraham Lincoln made famous, one of the second or undistinguished families of Virginia, as he said, “a family of the name of Hanks.” The old house has hardly a right angle in it, but it is solidly constructed, and its rear windows look out over the Avon toward Daniel’s Well, and the stepping stones by which the early folk of Malmesbury crossed the Avon, listening more or less willingly to the Gospel as they crossed.

For in the old Saxon days, as the Venerable Bede tells, and I think also that distinguished historian William of Malmesbury, it was the custom of pious monks to select their positions near the fords, ferries and bridges, and to sing to travellers, and if they were able to induce the travellers to halt, to preach as well. One of the most interesting of these old fords, famed in the chronicles of the early monks, is that on which the Hanks windows look down. But we shall return for another view of this interesting spot, stirring our tea the while in the best china of the Hanks family.

We do not know that the Romans did any fighting about here, or that the Druids were active in missionary work from Stonehenge as a center. We suspect that it must have been so, and we think we discover evidences of Druid occupation; for in front of the old Sun Tavern we see a row of tapering stones set on end, each crowned with a round stone like the top one-third of a globe. But these, we learn, are granary posts, with fenders to prevent the rats from getting to the grain. It is disappointing to have one’s antiquities so rudely modernized. Those stones may not be more than five hundred years old, and are not worth stopping to look at.

As early as 400 A.D., Malmud, King of Britain, founded or restored a town at or near the confluence of the two Avons. About 519 the kingdom of West Saxony or Wessex was formed, and this establishment was followed in 587 by the kingdom of Mercia. Malmesbury was called Ingelburn by the Saxons, and was in Wessex. It is said that there was a treaty to the effect that this town, so near the border, and being peculiarly liable to attack, should not be sacked in case of capture. Perhaps so; but it was a frontier post, and those were rough days with almost constant war, and those barbarous kingdoms were at strife much if not most of the time. Malmesbury did not escape its full share in the experiences of those more or less good old times. Whether Malmesbury is named from Malmud or from Maeldulph, a monk of the fifth century, historians dispute. To us it can not matter greatly. The whole aspect of the town is medieval.

The religious history of Malmesbury goes back to the fifth century, when a house of nuns was established at Burton Hill, later a seat of the Hanks family. A royal residence for Saxon kings was established here, also, and Henry VIII is believed to have been a guest in this ancient seat. The school developed; a monastery was founded by Maeldulph. He it was who took his harp to the river and played and sang and preached to passing pilgrims. It was his pupil, Aldhelm, who built the first church organ in England. That organ became famous. It was “a mighty instrument of innumerable tones, blown from bellows, and enclosed in a gilded case.” Some centuries later, some of the Hankses were playing the successors of that organ. Within the memory of men now living one of the Hankses played the old organ in the abbey, and his body rests beneath its pavement, and has a tablet on one of the columns of the nave.

Aldhelm became abbot in 675 and held his office for thirty years. He may almost be said to have been the first educator in England. Before they taught Latin in Oxford or in Cambridge, Aldhelm established his system of education based on the Latin classics, and old Malmesbury was his educational center. His town should be a shrine for educators; for there the English system of education had its root.

The sciences had a home in Malmesbury. In the reign of Edward the Confessor, a monk named Elmore or Oliver, famed as a mathematician, constructed the first heavier-than-air aeroplane. He flew from one of the monastery towers for a distance of an eighth of a mile. He broke both legs in his landing, and his invention was not further developed.

So learning flourished here, and music, and piety. And when the beautiful old Abbey was erected, about 1150, Malmesbury was one of the glorious towns of old England. Only a part of the nave of the Abbey now remains, but it is starred in Baedeker, and the recessed South Porch is one of the most beautiful in England, as we shall presently observe. But we must go back beyond the Abbey, for there is an interesting story to tell.

King Alfred the Great faced an invasion of the Danes, and was defeated in 872. At that time Malmesbury was captured and burned by the invaders. But Alfred came back at them, and defeated the Danes here in 878. The men of Malmesbury proved such good fighters that in gratitude to them and their town Alfred gave to the older Abbey rich endowments. But this was preliminary to another and more important royal association. King Athelstan had to defend his kingdom against another incursion of the Danes, and again the men of Malmesbury fought bravely and successfully. In 930 he gave to the town a charter, and when he died in Gloucester in 941 his body was brought back and buried in the Abbey. There is a cenotaph in the nave, erected in his honour. His actual dust is presumed to be under the floor, where it mingles with the dust of innumerable Hankses. The floor of the Abbey was taken up in the summer of 1927, and the visitor would then have had difficulty in not getting some of this same dust of kings and Hankses on his shoes.

This brings us to the Hanks family, who have been there since Athelstan’s day and before. The original charter of Athelstan is not preserved, and the attempt to reconstruct it from citations in later documents leaves something to be desired. But it appears that two Hankses were named by King Athelstan, and that the name goes back at least a hundred years further, and probably more than that.

It was a curious and most interesting form of government and land tenure which Athelstan provided for Malmesbury. He divided the “common” land into two hundred eighty allotments of one and one-half or two acres each. But there were to be forty-eight “landholders” who received an extra acre each. These forty-eight were the “commoners.” Next were the “four-and-twenties,” being twenty-four assistant burgesses each with another extra acre. Then came the warden or alderman, with twelve “capital burgesses” who are extra to the commoners, and who receive ten to fifteen acres each, with freehold houses in and about the borough.

Now let us go down by the bridge where the good monk played his harp before there was a bridge, and we shall find what was once the Hospital of the Knights of St. John, a portion of it now an almshouse for the widows of burgesses, and part of it “the old court-house.”

The widow of a burgess gets a single room free, if it is available, and either pays or receives a shilling a week, I think she receives it. One of them keeps the keys to the old court-house and once in a long time receives a tip for admitting visitors. In this curious old room, besides an odd seat for the defendant when court is held, is the hall of legislation and seat of government. A rail divides the “House of Commons” where the forty-eight sit from the “House of Lords.” This inner portion of the room has a cockpit where the “four-and-twenties” sit, and on three sides, the sides of the walls, are thirteen seats, for the alderman and the twelve “capital burgesses.” Not always have all the capital burgesses been able to write their names, but they are not without honour.

There is an old English ballad which my mother used to sing, and I quote it from memory, in parts:

The mistletoe hung in the castle hall,

The holly branch shone on the old oak wall;

And the baron’s retainers were blythe and gay,

Keeping their Christmas holiday.

And the baron beheld with a father’s pride

His beautiful child, young Lovell’s bride;

And she with her bright eye seemed to be

The eye of that goodly company.

So the mirth of the marriage mingled with that of the Yuletide,

and the mistletoe, alluring but ominous, hung above all.

“I’m weary of dancing now,” she cried,

“Here tarry a moment; I’ll hide, I’ll hide!

And, Lovell, be sure thou’rt the first to trace

The way to my secret lurking-place.”

So she hid, and they searched, gaily at first,

then anxiously and then in terror.

They sought her that night,

And they sought her next day,

They sought her for weeks,

And a year rolled away.

Lovell grew haggard and old, and the baron mourned the loss of his daughter. After a long time they found her, a skeleton, hidden in an old oak chest. She had not been able to raise the heavy cover and had died there.

That happened in Malmesbury, and if you like you shall see the chest. It is the old muniment chest of the corporation, the chest in which they keep the burgess’ rolls. There are three locks on the old chest, and there must be three capital burgesses present when it is opened. A pilgrim from America, coming with proper credentials, may secure the opening of the chest, and may have placed in his hands the famous “Burgess’s rolls.” They are nothing like so ancient as the time of Athelstan, and we can not prove from them whether the name of Hanks has been on the official papers of Malmesbury continuously since 850, as is confidently affirmed, but it is altogether likely.

Many Hankses have been commoners, four-and-twenties and capital burgesses. Some Hankses have been aldermen. These are not high offices, but they are the highest official positions in Malmesbury. The Hankses have been, and are, a reputable people in the town where the name has been longest known.

The name Thomas Hanks occurs frequently. I was especially interested in this, for the first American male ancestor of Abraham Lincoln was Thomas Hanks, and I had some hope that I could find him. There was a Thomas Hanks in almost every generation of every branch of the Hanks family, and which Thomas it was who migrated to Virginia is another story. I traced the strong bold signature of one Thomas Hanks, alderman and burgess, on the burgess’s roll. I did not find any Hanks name there signed with a cross, but I may not have seen all. Malmesbury knows that President Lincoln’s mother sprang from that town. Indeed, I was informed very seriously, and by a man of repute, that Nancy Hanks was born there and migrated to Virginia in her youth, and there or in Kentucky married Thomas Lincoln. That is an error of a good many generations, but the Hanks family is one about which it is not easy to be wholly certain. The Massachusetts and Virginia branches are probably of the same English stock. But they spring from separate immigrants, the Massachusetts Hanks arriving in or about 1699 and the Virginia Hanks a half-century earlier.

We could not afford to miss the fine old Abbey, even if it were not starred in Baedeker or associated with the Hankses, for it is beautiful even in its mild decay. They are making extensive restorations, and it is to be hoped that they will effect a worthy duplication. We shall find many graves of Hankses in the churchyard, and some in the Abbey itself. We must inspect the records here, and find all the Hankses we can discover. The records go back to 1590, which is far enough for our purpose.

Let us look about the Abbey again. Back in the Puritan days, those pious gentlemen opposed the current habit of bear-baiting, not, it is alleged, because that pastime gave the bear pain, but because it gave the spectators pleasure. By 1703 they had a menagerie in Malmesbury. Hannah Twinnon got too near the tiger’s cage, on October twenty-third, and her tombstone reads:

In bloom of life

She’s snatched from hence

She had not Room

For her defense;

For Tyger fierce

Took life away,

And here she lies

In bed of Clay

Until the Resurrection Day.

But long before 1703 the ancestresses of Nancy Hanks were in Virginia, and no Hanks girls were eaten by tigers so far as we know.

Entering the Abbey again by the arched porch, we find the three receding arches with sculptures of Bible history, two of the Old Testament and one of the New. The workmen courteously stand aside and permit us to walk among the scaffolding. The old records are produced and a table dusted for our inspection. Here are Hankses in the books, and Hankses on the walls, and Hankses under our feet.

And with us are two living Hankses, the last in Malmesbury. They are the two surviving daughters of William Hanks, who died in Malmesbury in 1905, aged seventy-five. These two ladies, intelligent correspondents, live lives that are bounded by the old Abbey, the early history of Malmesbury, the Women’s Conservative Club, and the hope of Heaven. We pass with these two elderly women down the street and under the mirror, to the interesting old house where they live overlooking the Avon and its stepping stones. “Our father was an artist,” they say. “He painted these pictures, which were well spoken of. For this one he was offered fifty pounds. His brother, our uncle, was a musician, and played the organ for many years in the Abbey. Our father was a Capital Burgess. You will have tea with us. This is the old Hanks china. We have taken to using it every day. We should have used it in your honour any way, but we are the last Hankses who will ever handle these delicate old cups, and we have decided to get the good of them. The name of Hanks must disappear from Malmesbury, where it has been known and had its modest share of honour since 850. We do not quite like to think of its disappearance from the town where it is earliest of record, and where it has continued for more than a thousand years. It gratifies us to know that the name of Hanks abides in America, and that it has been made immortal in the lineage of your great President, Abraham Lincoln.”

“One of Cromwell’s Soldiers”

I was not the first American to visit Malmesbury in quest of Malmesbury concerning the Hanks family. Those who were before me were representatives of the New England branch, and their research concerned itself with the line of Benjamin Hanks, who, with His wife, Abigail, sailed from England in 1699, and in due course arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts, near which ancient town, already eighty years old, they established their home, and became progenitors of the Massachusetts family of Hanks. I did not visit Malmesbury until I had made it quite certain that the Virginia and Kentucky Hankses did not descend from Benjamin Hanks, but from Thomas Hanks, who was in Virginia, landed and established, by January, 1653, and who apparently had already been resident mere for several years.

In Malmesbury I was able to secure copies of the results of the Benjamin Hanks investigation, and to go over the same ground and much more. So far as I can discover, the New England inquiry was well made, and its results appear to possess a great degree of probability. Neither those persons who made these earlier investigations nor I can claim a complete demonstration, but neither of us conflicts with the other. I have found nothing that either certifies or disproves the Benjamin Hanks investigation, and I judge that nothing more is likely to be found bearing in any important way upon it.

I however, was seeking an earlier immigrant who I knew was mainly in Virginia before 1653. I had a conjecture which I hoped to prove or disprove. Inasmuch as I had not been able to discover the actual year of Thomas Hank’s arrival in Virginia, and knew that Elizabeth Hanks was there in 1635, I thought it possible that she might have been a widow with a half-grown son. I had a vision of a possible entry in the parish records of Malmesbury, in some year not far from 1620, in which Elizabeth Hank or Hanks and her husband presented for baptism a son Thomas, and then, of a record, not later than 1634, of the death of the said husband. If then the name of Elizabeth disappeared from the records in Malmesbury; if there were no record of her death or remarriage, I could justify myself in the opinion that Thomas Hanks, and his widowed mother, Elizabeth, came to Virginia in 1635; that she died or remarried, and that he grew to manhood, probably as an apprentice, and was free and able to buy land of his own by January, 1653. This conjecture was too good to be true. I did not find any of those things. And, while Thomas was a very common Hanks name, the period around 1620 was one of unusual unproductively for infant Hankses of the name of Thomas in Malmesbury. The latter fact did not greatly matter, for Thomas Hanks of Virginia was certainly born, whether we could discover the place and date of birth or not, and there were many parishes near to Malmesbury where his birth might have occurred, some of them with no records in present preservation.

I made exhaustive search of the voluminous records of the three parishes of Malmesbury, the Abbey, Westport and St. Mary’s, employing paid assistance to go to the very limit of possible productivity, and, having the cooperation of the Abbey officials, I personally searched the burgess’ rolls and other historic documents. I found the name of Thomas Hanks very often, but not the Thomas I sought.

Meantime, I constantly encountered the tradition, both orally and in print, that “Thomas Hanks served with distinction as a soldier under Cromwell.” The phrase “under Cromwell” was to be interpreted with some elasticity, for Cromwell did not in person fight at Malmesbury; the Parliamentary armies there were led by Sir William Waller, but that was not a matter to waste any time over. That the Hankses had a share in the Civil War, and that they were divided a their allegiance, was almost too certain to be asked about. Every civil war sets the hand of brother against brother. Even in the United States, where the strife was territorial, that was true; in England it was vastly more true, for, from every part of England there were sympathizers on both sides. “A soldier under Cromwell” meant a soldier on the side of Parliament against King Charles.

But when I inquired where and how Thomas Hanks won distinction, all that I could learn was, “It was in one of the three battles fought in or near Malmesbury, that he was captured and sent away.” Such traditions may be exaggerated or distorted, but hey are seldom made out of whole cloth. The story was altogether probable; the annoying thing was that, with all my inquiry, I could not learn just what Thomas Hanks did that distinguished him, except this, that he was taken prisoner, and disappeared in the war.

I came at length to accept this tradition tentatively and still hold to it, as incorporating an essential element of truth. And that tradition, accepted as such and as nothing more, has its rather important place in this chapter.

The civil wars of the seventeenth century were two or three in number, and one may read about them all in history; but the first of them, which dethroned and beheaded King Charles I, began with the break between Charles and Parliament in July, 1642, and brought its first battle at Edgehill, near Banbury, October twenty-third of that year. Charles I, having fled from London to York, was welcomed to Oxford, where he established his headquarters and his unsteady throne, and when he returned to London it was for trial and execution. His armies were disastrously defeated at Marston Moor, July 2, 1644, and Naseby, June 14, 1645. The Second Civil War broke out in 1648, and Charles was executed January 30, 1649.

Malmesbury’s part in the Civil War, as far as it affects our present narrative, was mainly in 1642 and 1643. The little town, upon its upstanding rock at the confluence of the two Avons, changed hands several times, and was the site of more than one battle. Its ultimate fate was determined also by battles fought in the near-by towns of Devizes and Cirencester.

While Oliver Cromwell was fighting around Bedford and York, Sir William Waller, “William the Conqueror” they called him, led the Parliamentary forces in Wiltshire. We are told by Clarendon that, in 1642 …

Sir William Waller, with a light party of horse and dragoons, near two thousand, from the Earl of Essex’s army, had made a quick march through Wiltshire, (after his taking of Chichester) and taking, with little loss or trouble, a small garrison of the King’s, at Malmesbury, before it was fortified.

The Honourable Hugh Clarendon has never been accused of impartiality, and it may be that the exploit of Waller was rather more of a victory than the account implies. But next year Malmesbury was taken, with not a few prisoners, by the King’s forces. King Charles himself is alleged to have spent a night there, and the royal forces were long quartered in the town. It was an ill day for any Malmesbury man that had been fighting in the army of Parliament.

Clarendon expressed admiration for the military genius of Sir William Waller as “a right good chooser of advantages,” but he says that at Devizes “Waller departed from an advantage he could not recover.” He says Waller did this out of “pure gaiety,” so confident was he of victory, but that he was routed, “a glorious day, a day of triumph for the King’s affairs,” with six hundred Puritans killed and nine hundred captured. This was in July, 1643, only a few miles from Malmesbury, and the Cromwellian troops were mainly recent recruits from the vicinity. What to do with the prisoners was a perplexing problem for Charles, who hardly knew what to do with himself. How the Puritan prisoners were insulted and abused is told in Hutchinson’s Memoirs. While the Puritans resisted and (1 Vol. 1, p. 274; quoted in Knight’s History of England, IV, pp. 19-20.) were successful in larger battles, they were doomed to suffer another defeat at Cirencester, in the immediate vicinity of Malmesbury, in September, 1643, being overtaken and attacked in the rear in a narrow valley, and losing several hundred prisoners.

These battles went against the Parliamentary army, and the prisoners taken were marched to Oxford. We have a description of that march, or at least of the arrival of the prisoners in Oxford. They came in, faint and cold, thinly clad in the raw wind, their gaping wounds undressed. Charles and his two princes rode a mile out of Oxford to see them enter the town. It was a pitiful sight, and some of those who were near looked at Charles as he sat on his horse, to discover if he manifested any mark of pity. They could not find any such sentiment visibly displayed on his countenance, “but the King was observed to smile.” Cromwell might not have smiled, but neither would he have pitied. He would have believed that what he did was the righteous judgement of God.

What did they do with Civil War prisoners? Largely they shipped them to Virginia. Cromwell himself practised that method of disposing of his prisoners, as we shall learn. It is more than possible that Mr. Oliver Cromwell had something to do with providing Abraham Lincoln with a maternal ancestor, by tempting Thomas Hanks to take up arms against King Charles.

Having exhausted the records at Malmesbury, I turned to Devizes, where the Wiltshire Archaeological Society, through its Honorary Secretary, Honourable B. Howard Cunningham, F. S. A., rendered me all possible assistance, but we could find no individual names of prisoners except of commanders who on one side or the other held the place from time to time. The British Museum added little to my knowledge. One vast mine of possible information remained, the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane, London. To secure admission there, one must be presented through his Ambassador, who introduces the inquirer through the Foreign Office, a procedure requiring about a week; but the Ambassador also gives a letter of introduction to the Secretary of the Record Office, stating that he has requested the Foreign Office to make the formal application of the Record Office, and requesting that, pending receipt of the document, the inquirer be permitted to use the records. Ambassador Houghton expressed great interest in my search, and gave me every possible assistance, and my welcome at the Record Office was all that I could have asked. Not only was I permitted personally to examine the records, but I was assisted in securing a secretary, familiar with the records and known to its officials, who helped me while I was there and continued my search afterwards as long as there appeared to be anything left to search for.

What I hoped was that I might find an actual mention of the name of Thomas Hanks among deported prisoners, or, failing this, that I might find lists that seemed sufficiently complete so that the absence of his name would indicate conclusively that my theory was wrong.

The farther I searched, the more certain it appeared that nothing short of a miracle could have preserved the name of Thomas Hanks as a deported prisoner. I did not find his name, nor the name of any other prisoner from the ranks, deported by Charles in the Civil War. And yet, there were thousands of such prisoners.

I was encouraged for a time by the fact that I found names of deported prisoners in the time of Monmouth’s rebellion. They are in Hotten’s Lists. But the conditions were very different. Monmouth’s men were tried in the civil courts at the end of the rebellion. Chief-Justice Jeffries sat on the bench in his “bloody circuit” and sent three hundred and fifty “Rebels” to the gallows, and more than eight hundred were sold into slavery beyond the sea. James II wreaked a terrible vengeance, but it was through the form of court procedure. Thousands of the accused were whipped and imprisoned. The Queen, and even judge Jeffries made shameless sale of pardons. The eight hundred and more “convicted Rebels” who “by the King’s mercy” were deported, were sold to ships captains who resold their prisoners for periods, usually of seven years, to planters in Virginia or Barbados.

We have record of these deportations, in lots of forty or fifty each, because the “Rebels” were thus tried and convicted. But neither Charles nor Cromwell needed any such procedure. On both sides there were large bodies of prisoners of war, captured under arms. They were expensive to feed, and they were liable to rescue or escape. The sooner they were aboard ship, headed for the Colonies where their labour was in demand, where they not only occasioned no expense but by the sale of their indenture could yield revenue, the better for the captors.

A further fact became plain as one examined the records of the Civil War. Charles I not only had no especial reason for preserving records of his prisoners who were safe beyond the sea, but he had no facilities. He was insecurely maintaining a pretence of government at Oxford, or was seeking refuge among the Scotch. If he had any records of transported prisoners he could hardly have preserved them. And if he had done so, those records would have been waste paper to Cromwell, who did not preserve, so far as I could find, any permanent records of his own deportations.

We have from Cromwell’s own pen what every historian acknowledges as the most unfavourable account of his own doings, and this with regard to this very matter of his treatment of prisoners. When he entered upon his Irish campaign, he was determined to succeed, and he wanted to succeed with as little loss of life to his own soldiers as possible. His first two battles were the sieges of Drogheda and Wexford. To both these fortresses he offered most liberal terms if they would surrender without a fight, promising them that they should march out with the honours of war, and with protection of life and property within those cities. He would have kept his promise. But both fortresses were captured after bloody fights, and Cromwell did the bloodiest work of his life at these two towns.

Such records as are found of prisoners taken by the armies of King Charles I are far less abundant than those of Cromwell, but even Cromwell’s lists seldom name officers lower than colonels. Here, for instance, is a report made to Sir William Waller:

April 17,1644

The Committee of both kingdoms

To Sir William Waller:

We have received intelligence from Lord Fairfax of that good success that God has been pleased to give him and his son with their joined forces against the town of Selby, which upon the 11th inst. they stormed in these several places at once, and after two hours took it. The prisoners & ammunition there taken are contained in the list underwritten; the names of the officers we have forborne to transcribe for brevity, but would not omit to give you this notice of it that God may have the praise.

The List;

Col. Sir John Bellassis

Col. Sir John Ramsden

Sir. Thos. Strickland

2 Lieut. Colonels

4 Majors

5 Horse Captains

12 Foot Captains

26 Lieutenants

6 Cornets

11 Ensigns

9 Quartermasters

1600 common soldiers

500 horse and more

(and much ammunition).

The Journals of the House of Lords and the House of Commons in 1643 and 1644 contain a considerable number of entries concerning prisoners “who might be dangerous to the Peace of the City” and who were ordered removed, and the appointment of Committees “to consider the most convenient way of disposing of such prisoners as are taken by the Army, and are burdensome to the State, either by sending them to the Indies, or otherwise.”

Somewhat later, Sir Henry Vane and others were given power to dispose of prisoners, under the degree of field officer; but no lists of the prisoners so distributed are preserved.

This chapter was begun without any conscious presuppositions. If I had found that the Virginia Hankses were descended from those of Massachusetts, I should have been willing to learn and to state that fact. If I had found that the Virginia Hankses came from some other place than Malmesbury, that fact would have served my purpose equally as well as the conclusion which I have adopted. If I Had found that Thomas Hanks was a vagrant or a criminal, I should have been sorry, but I would have recorded it just as I learned it. But as labour of investigation continued, it appeared to be more probable that the Thomas Hanks whom I had found in 1653 had come from the vicinity of the old Hanks home and that the Civil War was the occasion of his transportation. Even though I could not discover a Thomas Hanks of military age in Malmesbury at the outbreak of that war, I found myself driven to the practical conclusion that there must have been such a man there, and that he was the same man whom I had found in Virginia. I wanted something better than a tradition to link the two together, but could not discover it. Neither could I discover any reason for such a tradition unless there had been such a man. I was therefore writing this chapter, and had indeed written its first draft, saying that while I had not discovered an actual Thomas Hanks of record in Malmesbury at the particular time indicated, I was satisfied that the tradition was essentially correct. I had not found a Thomas Hanks emerging from any other place who could have been the man, and certainly Thomas Hanks, of Virginia, came from somewhere. The Hankses were not a widely distributed family in England in 1642, and the counties where they mainly lived showed no other man with whom to confuse the search.

So, after prolonged search, I reached what amounted to a conclusion, that the Thomas Hanks who disappeared from Malmesbury in the early portion of the Civil War, and the Thomas Hanks whom I found in Virginia nine or ten years later, the only men of that name whom I have been able to discover, were one and the same man. But I was baffled by the fact that I could not find some record of this man resident in Malmesbury at a date immediately prior to the battles of 1643.

My assistants both at Malmesbury and in London had written that they had reached the end of their search, and I had paid them for their labour. My assistant in London, sending me her receipt, enclosed the following significant letter:

Public Record Office

Chancery Lane, London,

22 May, 1928

Dear Sir:

I am obliged to you for your cheque and enclose receipt.

The enclosed note may possibly interest you, as it proves that Thomas Hanks was living near Malmesbury and paying his taxes in 1642.

Yours faithfully,


Indeed it did interest me! If there could be one particular year in the whole Christian era in which I wanted to find a Thomas Hanks in Malmesbury, it was in that year, just before the Civil War invaded Wiltshire, and fought three battles in that county that were unfavourable to the Cromwellian forces, and which resulted in the marching of captives to Oxford where Charles beheld them with unpitying interest. And this is the record:


Assessment for levying of Money for the Necessary Defence

and Great Affairs of the Kingdom —

For the Hundred of Malmesbury, in the County of Wilts:

Nr. 6:4

At Brokenborrow Paid

Thomas Hanckes vj d

No further search has disclosed him there or elsewhere in England at any later date. Thomas Hanks was in Malmesbury when the Civil War broke out; he left behind him a tradition that he distinguished himself as a soldier under Cromwell; he disappeared from Malmesbury and is presumed to have been among the captured soldiers of 1643. This is probably all that we shall learn about him on that side of the water, and apparently it is enough.

And now, supposing this tradition to be essentially correct, and that Thomas Hanks, a soldier under Cromwell, was of those who were marched, freezing and bleeding, from Cirencester to Oxford, with Charles sitting on his horse and smiling grimly as they passed, and that Thomas Hanks and his companions were disposed of in the usual and convenient way by shipment to Virginia about 1644, What next might we expect to find of record concerning Thomas Hanks?

Nothing, certainly, during the seven years of his indenture, nor for two or three years afterwards. But if he lived to complete his of servitude, and then, being strong and resolute and ambitious, worked for wages for a year or two years, we might expect that somewhere about 1653 he would be making his first purchase of land. probably a small one, and we should expect to find a record of that purchase, with a description of the land, and the place of his location.

And this is exactly what we do find.

“Prisoners of Hope”

Deportation is a system of punishment for crime, civil or political, of which the essential factor is the removal of the criminal from his own country. It has been practised by many nations both ancient and modern. The exile of the Jews in Babylon in the sixth century B.C. is a familiar example of the attempt of a conquering nation to hold its conquests in security by removing from their native soil the national leaders in politics, religion and industry. The purpose is not mainly to inflict discomfort, but to promote national security by making further rebellion inconvenient. In American history we know something of this method of dealing with a stubbornly patriotic community in the deportation of the Acadians, as commemorated in Longfellow’s Evangeline, Russia, beginning in 1823, deported to Siberia offenders chiefly political. The system lasted almost a century, and the annual average of deportations at one time was about eighteen thousand. Italy and Portugal have employed the same system.

Deportation is to be distinguished from mere expulsion. The latter merely compelled the offender to take himself out of the country in which he was convicted. He was compelled to pay his own way, and to provide for himself as best he could, but he was free to go where he liked outside the boundaries of the state whose laws he was convicted of having violated. But the deported prisoner was still a prisoner, to be confined or restrained in such form and manner as might be judged expedient. The country deporting him had to pay the cost of his deportation, and was to a degree responsible for him during the period of his sentence. In England the deportation of criminals grew out of the severity of the penal code. When Sir Samuel Romilly (1757-1818) began his monumental reform, there were some two hundred capital offences under the laws of England. The inhumanity of hanging the sheep-thief and the pickpocket along with the murderer and the traitor had led to the employment of various forms of mitigation or respite, of which the most popular was deportation. The Vagrancy Act o f Queen Elizabeth’s reign gave to judges the authority to banish criminals or vagrants. In 1619, James I directed “a hundred dissolute persons” to be transported to Virginia. Charles I continued the practice; prisoners legally liable to death were “by the King’s mercy” deported. In the reign of Charles II offenders who had barely escaped the death penalty were authorized to be handed over to contractors for a period of years, usually seven, but not infrequently fourteen.

It was this period of servitude that produced the characteristic results of Virginia’s system. The government wanted to secure the passage of these prisoners without cost, if possible, and to be officially free from further responsibility for guarding and feeding them. The right to service was therefore sold to ship-captains or other contractors. That the captains of ships should have been the chief traffickers in this convict labour was very natural. They possessed the means of transportation, and personally accompanied their human cargo across. They met immediately on arrival the planters to whom it was easy to dispose of the labourers. The planters visited the ships in order to secure the goods they had ordered, or often for the single purpose of hiring the labourers. The planters paid for their labourers in tobacco, which was what the captains wanted as cargo for the return voyage.

Labour thus obtained became very valuable. The work of clearing the forests was one of the most laborious known to man. Not only were prisoners eagerly purchased for the period of their servitude, but when there was a shortage of these, there were vagrants and other persons who willingly sold their service for the sake of the opportunities in the new country, and there were young lads kidnapped and shipped. Blameless they were before the law, but powerless to invoke its protection.

Something of the lot of these people, as their story built up the traditions of Newgate, Defoe told in his Moll Flanders, and Mary Johnston has told it anew in “To Have and to Hold” and “Prisoners of Hope.” Most of the story, however, can never be told.

The main object of deportation was to provide a method of penal discipline. England was not unaware of the inhumanity which often accompanied the system. In 1778 a commission composed of three eminent men, Sir William Blackstone, Lord Auckland and John Howard, sought to remedy some of its abuses. They did accomplish a reform of some significance. The hope they expressed was:

By sobriety, cleanliness and medical assistance, by a regular system of labour, by solitary confinement during the intervals of work, and by religious instruction, to preserve and amend the health of the unhappy offenders, to inure them to habits of industry, to guard them from pernicious company, to accustom them to serious reflection, and to teach them both the principles and practice of every Christian and moral duty.

This was a most worthy aim, and it was never wholly lost sight of. But Thomas Hanks arrived in Virginia more than a hundred years before this provision was made. Moreover, Virginia was a long way from England, and when a deported criminal was well beyond the borders of Great Britain, she had accomplished her first object in having got rid of him, and the planter who paid certain bales or casks of tobacco for seven years of his service, running the risk of his escape, incapacity or death, was primarily interested in getting his money back, and a good margin of profit. The condition of indentured servants varied widely, according to the character of the master; we have abundance of court records to show what happened. But it was not a pleasant situation.

This brings me to the other topic which may also be new to some of those who read this chapter, that of headrights. In early Virginia even-thing was cheap except labour. Virginia needed more inhabitants. For this reason a reward was arranged to be paid to any one who would bring into the colony an inhabitant, man, woman, or half-grown child. The reward was a certificate entitling the holder to fifty acres of land. This land was not intended to be given the immigrant. If a man paid his own way over, he got a friend to file his certificate, and to assign the land to him. If he was an indentured servant, the certificate went to his master or to the captain of the ship. The captain thus had two articles of value to sell with each servant: first, the service of the man or woman; and, secondly, the right to file a requisition for fifty acres of land.

On June 10, 1654, Mr. Thomas Fowke, merchant of Westmorland County, entered and received patent to thirteen hundred and fifty acres of land for transporting twenty-seven persons into Virginia, one of them being Thomas Hanks. When I discovered this record, I had no doubt of its implication. Thomas Hanks, I was sure, was imported by Thomas Fowke, and so I stated in my Life of Abraham Lincoln. Greatly to my surprise I later learned that Thomas Hanks was himself buying land on similar headright certificates issued in the name of other immigrants, more than a year before Thomas Fowke entered his large tract. The explanation is, as I suppose, that for some time, certainly more than one year, and probably seven or eight years, the Thomas Hanks certificate had passed from hand to hand as script, and that Thomas Fowke, to whom this certificate finally was assigned, saved up his headright certificates until he had enough of them to entitle him to patent a large area. That is the way it was done.

With this somewhat extended but important discussion by way of introduction, we are ready to proceed with what is actually of record concerning the Hanks family in the United States.

I emphasize this fact because I find that other authors besides myself have been in error on this subject. A recent and in the main meritorious history of the ancestry of Robert E. Lee is a case in point.