There is an assumption that the Parsons family migrated to England either with William The Conqueror in 1066 or in the wake of the Norman invasion. Suggested spellings of the name in that era included Le Person, Parsone and other similar variations. They formed part of the new nobility who upheld the conquest and were awarded lands in the County of Norfolk.
In 1191, during the Third Crusade, Saladin demolished the city of Ascalon in the Holy Lands because of its potential strategic importance to the Christians, but the leader of the Crusade, King Richard I of England (Richard The Lionheart), constructed a citadel upon the ruins. Legend has it that sometime during 1192 skirmishes took place between the opposing factions as they attempted to negotiate a settlement to the conflict.
Richard Parsons (or Persons) was one of the King’s own body of battle axe guards. He saved the life of King Richard at Ascalon, where he killed two of the enemy with a single blow of his battle-axe. He was knighted in the field by King Richard and was granted three tigers heads for his arms and a battle-axe for his crest. His motto, being his own words on that day, that he "fought for God and his King", "Pro Deo et Rege".
No historical accounts or heraldic registers of the era record this however and it is not surprising due to the tumultuous times and the trouble the King encountered while returning to England, meaning that many battlefield knighthoods went unrecorded.
Records subsequent to The Domesday Book mention a William Persons who was living in County Norfolk in 1273. The current documents available show a Sir Richard Parsons of Antingham in Norfolk in the 17th year of Edward III, 1344. By this time the name had been anglicised to Parsons. John Parson is recorded as Rector of Yaxham, County Norfolk in 1425.
It is believed that my line continued through William Parsons, born 1490, who had a son Thomas Parsons, born 1520 of Dishworth Grange in Leicestershire. The move to the neighbouring County may be explained by his career, a Rector for example could be transferred from Parish to Parish or by an advantageous marriage to a neighbouring heiress. William and James (sons of Thomas) are usually associated with Norwich in Norfolk. Their sister Kathleen married Sir William Cole of Enniskillen. James Parsons, born 1545, married Catherine Fenton (daughter of Henry Fenton) in 1568, sister of Sir Geoffrey Fenton, Principal Secretary of State in Ireland. Catherine had Royal connections as she was descended from Henry Plantagenet, a grandson of King Henry III. Catherine was also a direct ancestor of Elizabeth II.
James and Catherine had five sons: William, Laurence (or Lawrence), Fenton, Thomas and Edward. William, Laurence and Fenton went to Ireland as “Undertakers” towards the end of the Elizabethan reign (Elizabeth I) as part of the “Plantation of Ireland”. I presently have no verifiable information as to what became of Edward, though Patrick Parsons of Napier New Zealand although a fifth generation Kiwi, is a direct descendant of Thomas and from whom some of the above information came. I enjoyed very much meeting Patrick and getting his side of the family history on a trip to NZ in late 2010. Incidentally his line of descent is thus; Thomas Parsons-Richard Parsons of Tibshelf, Derbyshire-Richard Parsons Jnr (d.1687)-Richard Parsons (b.1649) m. Elizabeth Buckland-William Parsons (b)1680) m. Rebecca Cowley-Richard Parsons (b.1716) m. Sarah Hand-William Parsons (b.1744) m. Ellen Shaw-Samuel Parsons (b.1781) m. Elizabeth Tate-John Parsons (b.1812) m. Mary Rawson-Samuel Parsons (b.1842) m. Anne Robert-Philip Parsons (b.1872) m. Jane Benson-Jack Parsons (b.1911) m. Wever Lopdell-Patrick Parsons (b.1942).
Parsons in Ireland
William Parsons, the eldest, became a Commissioner of Plantations and the Surveyor-General of Ireland. He obtained large grants of lands, mostly in Wexford, and was created a baronet in 1620. When created a Baronet in 1620 he received the Manor of “Tassagard” as a gift from James I. Sir William (or one of his sons) built an imposing lakeside residence called “Garadise” between 1610 and 1620. It was situated between Carrigallen and Ballinamore in County Leitrim. A house still stands on the site today though it is a modern replica.
Sir William Parsons married Elizabeth Lany, eldest daughter of John Lany, an Alderman of Dublin (Sir William and Elizabeth had five sons and seven daughters). His Grandson and successor, Sir Richard, was created Baron Oxmantown and Viscount Rosse in 1681 and his son Richard was created Earl of Rosse in 1706. Richard 1st Earl of Rosse was the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland Freemasons in 1725 and held Office until 1730. The title of Earl became extinct on the death of Richard the Second Earl of Rosse in 1764 but was revived in the younger branch of the family in the person of Lawrence-Harman Parsons, who was created Baron Oxmantown in 1792, Viscount Oxmantown in 1795 and Earl of Rosse in 1806. Lawrence-Harman died in 1807 and was succeeded by his nephew Sir Lawrence Parsons, Second Earl of Rosse (1758-1841).
Laurence Parsons was trained as a lawyer and became Attorney-General for Munster in 1612 (when he was knighted), a Judge of the Admiralty in 1619 and in 1620 joint Receiver-General of Crown Lands with his brother William. His official career was more successful than meritorious and it is his activities as a coloniser and developer of plantation lands that create interest. In 1620 he acquired 1000 acres of arable land and 277 of wood and bog in the territory in central Ireland known as Ely O'Carroll.This acquisition centred on the town and castle of Birr. On June 26th of the same year it was constituted a Manor under the new name of Parsonstown, in Kings County. Parsonstown and Birr remained alternative names for the town up to the last century. Laurence and his wife Ann Maltham had three sons and three daughters. The current Earl of Rosse residing in Birr Castle (Brendan Parsons)is a descendant of the second son William.
Fenton Parsons (known as Fenton of Ballinamore) followed the profession of the law. In the year 1621 he, as British Undertaker, received a grant of 600 acres of arable land in County Leitrim. This land was to be created into the Manor of Ballinamore.
GRANT TO FENTON PARSONS: The town and lands of Stradermot, Foghera and Ballinamore 145 acres pasture and 50 acres bog, Kilnedmodera alias Kalamunda (Kiltymoodan) 50 pasture and 45 bog and wood; Castleroggy 47 pasture and 4 bog; Tully 80 pasture 33 bog and wood; Corremcreagh 43 pasture and 20 bog and wood; Omagh Cornageeragh Meely, Aghaville and Cloverhill 130 pasture and 75 bog and wood. Kiltyhugh 50 pasture and 106 bog and wood; Kiltycreevagh 45 pasture and 66 bog and wood; Barony of Carrigallen; rent for the 600 pasture 10 Irish………………Created the manor of Ballinamore, with power to hold a court-baron, to appoint seneschals and other officers with jurisdiction in all actions of debt or trespass, where the damages do not amount to 40 Irish.
A number of Protestant artisans (hatter, felt-maker, clay-potter, nailer, glover,etc) were brought into the infant town of Ballinamore. But this first plantation failed and all the inhabitants had to flee for their lives in the rebellion of 1641. According to a census taken in 1659 there were then only 284 people in the entire parish, 13 of them in Ballinamore.
Fenton married an Elizabeth Jackson and they had three sons, Fenton, Gerard and William. Fenton, the eldest, married a Miss Savage by whom he had Colonel Laurence Parsons of Ulleskelfe in Yorkshire who in turn married Frances Leigh, widow of Major Vavasour and niece of John, Lord Saville. They lived at Newton Hall in Yorkshire. Laurence died near Manchester in 1673. No children have been traced to this marriage.
Fenton’s first wife must have passed away as he remarried in 1623 to Ann Shirley, daughter of Sir George Shirley (originally spelt Shurley), Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, Ireland. They had three children, George, Penelope (married Rev John Lightfoot the younger of Goddicoote in Hertfordshire) and Elizabeth (Burk De Castleconnell).
Fenton and Ann took possession of Ballinamore Manor and when Fenton died in 1638 their son George took possession. In 1644 a dispute arose between George and his half brother Colonel Laurence Parsons. The lands were in the meantime vested in their cousin Sir William Parsons, Master of H.M. Court of Wardes. Except to receive an allowance in money George was not further concerned with this land. The last record we have of George Parsons is in 1652 when he and his sisters Penelope Lightfoot and Elizabeth all joined in a conveyance of the Manor of Ballinamore and its estate to Laurence Parsons for the sum of £300.
My line continues from George (wife’s name unknown) through to Richard Parsons who died on the 7th May 1758 and who is buried in Drumreilly Cemetery (overlooks Garadise Lake). The monument can still be seen in Drumreilly cemetery with the words "This Monument was erected by Richard Parsons for the use of himself and his family. May 6th 1758."
Richard had three sons, William, Richard (of Carrigogunnell) and Joseph of Ballyhaise Manor. William lived in County Leitrim and had two sons William (of Curramahon) and Joseph (of Callowhill). William married Anne Armstrong and they had five children, Francis (who went to Porterin, West Indies), Thomas (of Stralohan and Curramahon), Mary (married William Wilson), Elizabeth (married Foster Rutledge) and Eleanor (married Robert Nicholl). William and Anne held farmland in County Leitrim, a little over 21 acres and a house, offices, etc in the townland of Curramahon. This was a part of the former Garadise estate that Fenton Parsons and his son George had owned in the 1600s. Following the dispute between George and Colonel Laurence Parsons this land had remained in the possession of Sir William Parsons and his succeeding generations, down to the Percy family. There was an auction of “Horses, Superior Stock, Household Furniture and farming implements” held on Wednesday 24th May 1848 after the passing of William C. Percy. On Monday 28th August 1882 a further auction was held at Garadise of “Very valuable American Carriages, household furniture with cattle, hay and heavy felled timber”. These instructions were given by a Michael O’Rourke Esq. It is not known at present who this was. William Parsons also held a little over 31 acres in the townland of Stralohan. On William’s death, the lands passed to Thomas.
Thomas Parsons married Margaret Johnston. They had seven children,William, Robert, Richard, Thomas (born 1844, my Great Grandfather), Elizabeth, Jane Ellen (married Robert Foster) and Catherine. William and Robert went to Australia (am trying to trace descendants of these two), Richard died in theUSA and Elizabeth and Catherine went to New Zealand. Elizabeth’s line is known to the present day (through the Scheib line) however it is not clear if Catherine had children prior to dying quite young from TB.
Thomas died in November 1855. In the Griffiths Valuation of Ireland that was taken in 1856 the Parsons family still owned the land and house in Curramahon but the size of their property in Stralohan had grown to more than 109 acres and now included a house and offices. This property is listed under the name of Margaret Parsons, the widow of Thomas. Margaret continued to live at Curramahon with her remaining family and she supported herself by grazing cattle on the land.
The land next passed on to my Great Grandfather Thomas Parsons (born 1844). He bought and lived in Dunraymond House of Ballybay. Thomas later sold the historic Parsons lands. The first to be sold was the farmland, house, offices, stables, cow-house, barn, granary and car-house that were situated at Curramahon, sold at auction on 19th April 1883. The two farms of land at Stralohan were put up for auction on 9 October 1905.
Thomas married his first cousin Ann Jane Wilson (daughter of William Wilson and Mary Parsons, Thomas’ Aunt) on September 17th 1863. Together they had thirteen children (not surprising he had to sell everything), Margaret (born 1864 died USA), William (born 1866 died circa 1952 in USA), Richard (1868-1954), Francis (1870-1954), Catherine Maria (born 1871, married George Fails), John Thomas (born March 6th1873, my Grandfather, married Margaret Griffith Jan 2nd 1902), Mary Helena (born 1875, married A.P Landers 1901 Palmerston, NZ), Eleanor Elizabeth(born 1877, married Edmond Davison), Robert (born 1878, married Elizabeth Reid, NZ), George (born 14th Jan 1882, married Zilla Stephney Evans 27th Oct 1909, died Pretoria South Africa 23rd Oct 1918, flu epidemic), Anne Jane (1880-1909), Joseph (1884-1900, meningitis) and Charlotte Louisa (born 1886, lived in Auckland,NZ).
On 22nd June 1917 Thomas married for a second time to his house servant Elizabeth Morehead. Thomas would have been 76 years old, Elizabeth 21. Two children came from this marriage, Martha Florence Parsons and George Frederick Parsons.
My Grandfather John Thomas Parsons ran a small drapers shop in Westport Co.Mayo. Having married Margaret Griffith in January 1902, he didn’t waste anytime as their first child, Dorothy, was born on 10th November 1902 (died January 1978). A son Frederick William was born on 23rd November 1904 however he died an infant from Double Pneumonia on March 16th 1905). Another son, Thomas Griffith Parsons, my father, was born on August 15th 1907.
Grandfather, realising that his small business in a town on the sparsely populated West coast of Ireland was not going to support his growing family, decided to relocate to a major City. He was unable to decide between Dublin and Belfast (remember this was pre partition) so he tossed a coin and it came up Belfast. He moved his family to Belfast and opened up a larger tailoring business in Wellington Place in Belfast in 1909. Dorothy did not marry and had no children. Thomas married Margaret Martin of Locksley, Finaghy in Belfast on August 7th 1937. The marriage did not last long and some years later Thomas married Dorothy Boyd of Marmion House, Holywood, Co.Down. Thomas (died 18th May 1994) and Dorothy (died 14th Feb 1996) had three children, Richard Laurence (born 1951), Caroline Mary (born 1956) and Antony Fenton (born 1963).
Richard Laurence is married with four daughters, Tiffany, Camilla, Melissa and Serena. Caroline Mary has two sons, Patrick and William and Antony Fenton has a daughter and twin sons, Tara, Thomas and Jonathan.