The history of Swallowfield, Berkshire, England is told in a document buried deep in the archives of British history, found just between “Swallow Tales of England” and “Swarthy Women of Cheap Street.”

The link to the document Swallowfield and its’ Owners provides the reader with 1000 years of history, countless names and more than several heart rendering stories about aristocrats who rendered up their hearts and died in the name of God, Country and Avarice (family wealth).

The possibility that our Peter Smith descends from Swallowfield Manor is something that genealogists have tossed around for close to 50 years.  There have been some attempts to tie our dearly beloved Peter to a Jane Barnes and her family, but that seems to be nothing more than a reflection of a marriage license issued in England during the first half of the 17th Century.  There were, as historians have noted, a number of Peter Smiths, hobnobbing around the city of London and shires of the countryside. A connection of our family to Jane Barnes and Peter Smith appears speculative in the year 2017. While one cannot discount the possibility, this Peter remains elusive and beyond the grasp of many who hope to find him.

For the lack of anything substantial to pinpoint as evidence I am offering up this tantalizing tidbit from the walls and gardens of Swallowfield Manor. Check out page 120 and you will find one of the few references to a Smith in the 1000 year old history of Swallowfield.

“Sir John Backhouse’s widow, Flora (nee Henshaw), remarried Henry Smith, alias Neville of Holt, Esquire, of co. Leicester. He was the second son of Sir Henry Neville of Billingbear, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Smith, Kt., of Ostenhanger, Kent, and was a widower with children, his first wife having been daughter and heir of Richard Staverton.”

‘Alias’ in the present day has come to mean “an alternate name for some one”  such as Steve Smith, alias ‘Kojak Johnson.’ We use an alias when we hope to evade the police, an ex-spouse, a creditor, or a stalker online.

In the 1600s ‘alias’ was frequently used to identify the family name of a spouse, or mother. In this usage of the term I could be referred to as Steve Smith, alias Slaymaker. Or alternatively: Steve Slaymaker, alias Smith. Or, as in the example of “Henry Smith, alias Neville,” I would be Steve Weiherman, alias Smith, using my mother’s maiden name as my own. Honestly, I don’t get it, but then I have not been charged with heresy, pursued by English clerics, or seeking to claim another family’s wealth as a dowry for my own well being.

There are several other links to Smiths in the Swallowfield text: the Backhouse family doctor responsible for Flora Henshaw Backhouse Neville was one “Dr. Edward Swayne, alias Smith”.  There is also a reference to Richard Smyth, the man responsible for the garments of King Henry VIII and the King’s forest at Swallowfield.  Let’s start by tracking down the the references to the Neville family in terms of plausibility. Can we find our Peter in the Neville bedroom?

Remember this: We need a Smith family that leaves England in the mid 1600s. We know a Peeter Smith left c. 1632, a second Peter Smith left England in 1648. Our Peter Smith began making substantial purchases of land in the colonies in the 1650s and died in 1691 in Westmoreland, VA. Immigrants who arrived in Virginia in the mid century (1650s) tended to be Cavaliers, escaping the wrath of Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads. Is it possible that Peter Smith was related to the Sir John Smith family of Ostenhanger? Let’s be clear about Sir John Smith. This is not the same Jon Smith who kept Jamestown alive and on the face of the New World map. That Captain John Smith did not have any known children.

The biography of “Henry Smith, alias Neville,’ and his family history is thought provoking. Was Peter Smith a Neville starting a new life in Virginia, escaping the Civil War? The following links in Wikipedia identify the Neville family tree and history. The links aren’t provided to promote the thought that this is our family tree. Rather, the question at this point is this: Is there anything in this history that provides a clue? An initial examination of the life of Henry Neville reveals that he died without child. So we immediately know that we are not descended from Henry Neville, alias Smith.  Does that close the door on our Peter? God I hope not. That would hurt.

We still have Neville’s grandfather, Sir John Smith, with his ties to Swallowfield. So now we have to track Sir John down and looked for any DNA he left on the face of the earth. Was Doctor Swayne, alias Smyth, a son in law of Sir John Smith? We will come back to the Dr. Swayne possibilities.

I did a quick grab of Neville family ancestors leading to Henry Neville for future reference. Henry was a VIP in 17th Century British politics and history. His essays and worldview would classify him as a Cavalier and it is a wonder that he was able to escape with his life in the decade of the Civil War in Britain. If his mother’s parents (Sir John) and her siblings shared Henry’s viewpoint they would be considered Cavaliers and would have had cause to begin attending Rotary Club meetings in Virginia.

  1. Henry Smith, alias Neville….
  2. Henry Neville of Billingbear House
  3. Sir Henry Neville (1564 – 10 July 1615[1]) was an English courtier, politician and diplomat, noted for his role as ambassador to France and his unsuccessful attempts to negotiate between James I of England and the Houses of Parliament. In 2005 Neville was put forward as a candidate for the authorship of Shakespeare’s works.

The Swallowfield Church may contain a clue related to the life and death of Dr. Swayne, alias Smith.

On the south wall of the nave outside is a small stone with an inscription to Edward Swayne, ‘Chirurgeon,’ who died 15 February 1650, aged fifty-nine. Next to the stone is a stone sundial, said to have been put there by the same Edward Swayne. There is a slab in the churchyard to Thomas Huxley, who died in 1685.

The Surgeon was age 59 in 1650 putting his birth circa 1591. That was a test of the limits of my math skills. Men born in 1590 could be married with children as early as 1615 and fathering children for decades thereafter. Dr. Swayne is in a position to be more likely a father or grandfather to our Peter Smith rather than a sibling. And this would be assuming that his offspring chose his alias (Smith) for a surname.