Long Ago and Far Away

by Miff Crommelin

In October 2012 my friend in Vancouver, Lisa, called to say that, Margrit, our mutual friend from England, was planning to fly out to visit her for a few days. This meant hastily putting together a 5-day itinerary and she wondered if I would be interested in hosting a visit at my home in Mission after they spent a day shopping in the Fraser Valley. I naturally agreed, so shortly thereafter Lisa and Margrit appeared at my door. Thus I was able to get re-acquainted with a lady who I hadn't seen for many years since she got married and went back to England to live.

1686 letter addressed to Frederic de Coninck,
residing with Daniel Crommelin at Greenway Court (Kent, England)

When she arrived I was busy with a project that involved translating a mass of old letters written in French during the late 1600's. They were written between distant relations - Frederic de Coninck to his mother, Catherine Crommelin, a sister of my very-great-grandfather, Daniel Crommelin. I showed Margrit what I was doing by pointing to a blue binder that contained a year's worth of translations. Daniel Crommelin was often mentioned in these letters because Frederic was staying with his aunt and uncle at Greenway Court, Kent, England. This is the place where Frederic had fled to when the persecution against Huguenots (French Protestants) had become intolerable after the Edict of Nantes had been revoked in 1685. Because of this persecution some 250,000 Huguenots fled from the kingdom of France rather than be forced to change their religion.

Daniel Crommelin (1647-1725)

To provide some background on my project, I led Margrit to my family tree which hung in the hallway, and I pointed out Daniel's place in one of the uppermost branches of the tree. For 10 years, from 1682 to 1692, Daniel was living with his family in a nice manor on leased acreage at Greenway Court (near Hollingbourne) where he grew and harvested grain. Frederic fell in love with the area and contemplated purchasing some property there himself while waiting for his fiancee, Marie Camin, to join him in England where they would soon be married at Hollingbourne.

Unfortunately things went awry. Marie Camin was captured while she tried to flee from France and was imprisoned in a Roman Catholic convent in Dieppe where her jailors tried to elicit an abjuration (renunciation of Protestantism) from her. This period of anxious waiting at Greenway Court was a very difficult time for Frederic de Coninck, and his letters express his anguish which lasted about a year before Marie was released on bail. She then went into hiding in Paris and eventually made her way to Holland from where she was able to cross over to England and finally marry her lover at Hollingbourne.

Thomas Culpeper & Margaret van Hesse,
the landlord(s) of Daniel Crommelin

All this time Frederic was living with his aunt and uncle, Daniel Crommelin, who rented the manor and acreage at Greenway Court from Thomas Culpeper. Shortly before Daniel Crommelin began his 10-year lease at Greenway Court, Thomas Culpeper returned from Virginia where he had been overseeing his vast land holdings there and acting as Governor of Virginia for 6 years. Thomas, who had a troubled marriage, also happened to own nearby Leeds Castle. His Dutch wife, Margaret van Hesse, occupied Leeds Castle with his [legitimate] daughter, Catherine, while he lived in London with his mistress, Susannah Willis, and their two illegitimate daughters. When Culpeper died in 1689, his oldest [and only legitimate] daughter, Catherine, inherited all this property. The vast acreage in Virginia, Greenway Court, and Leeds Castle then came into the possession of the Fairfax family when Catherine Culpeper married Thomas, Fifth Lord Fairfax of Cameron, a year after her father's death.

Their son, Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax eventually left England to take up residence in Virginia permanently where he started another town called Greenway Court, Virginia. He inherited an estate of 5,280,000 acres - a tract larger than the state of New Jersey - out of which 21 counties have since been made. Deciding that this land needed to be surveyed, Lord Fairfax hired a professional surveyor ably assisted by a young man named George Washington who was later to become the hero of the American Revolution and the first President of the United States. In 1748 Lord Fairfax secured for him the appointment of surveyor for the County of Culpeper in Virginia which enabled Washington to earn enough money to purchase his own tracts of land.

Before departing for Virginia in 1747, Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax transferred ownership of Greenway Court, Kent, and Leeds Castle to his youngest brother, Robert Fairfax, who later sold Greenway Court, Kent to a London banker, Sir Francis Child. However Robert's descendents owned Leeds Castle until recent times.

I mentioned some of these things to Margrit as we stood looking up at the Crommelin family tree because I knew that she lived near Kent, England, and I thought it would be nice if she and her husband might like to take a drive someday out to Hollingbourne. Perhaps they could mention to the present tenants of the Greenway Court manor what heartbreak and anguish took place there by Frederic de Coninck over 300 years ago while he waited for his fiancee to be released from her confinement at Dieppe. They could even read his letters because I had posted my translations on our family website. Greenway Court manor still exists today, however, it is a 'new' house having been built in 1786 on the foundations of the old one which burned down in 1782 - the house occupied a century earlier by Daniel Crommelin, Anne Testart and their two sons, Charles and Isaac.

When I mentioned the Culpeper and Fairfax families, and Thomas Culpeper's involvement with my ancestor as his landlord, Margrit uttered a gasp of surprise. Then she told me about the last job that she had held in England before her retirement. For years Margrit had been a tour guide at Leeds Castle, and part of her training was to learn in detail the history of the Culpeper and Fairfax families. Thus she was able to affirm everything that I had said about these two families! Not only that, but the week before she came to Vancouver, she and her husband were out for a Sunday drive which took them to Hollingbourne - a tranquil and rustic little town that she adores!

All Saints Church (the church where Frederic de Coninck and Marie Camin were married on 8 November 1686) still stands today, as does 'The Dirty Habit' - the inn where the Roman Catholic king, James II, spent one night on his flight to France when the Protestant, William of Orange, supplanted him during the 'Glorious Revolution of 1688'. If Daniel Crommelin and my very-great-grandmother, Anne Testart, had been in town on Christmas Eve, 1688, they would have seen the king of England beating a hasty retreat to France while at the same time so many Huguenots were fleeing the other way - from France to England!

I found this incident memorable because it brought something that happened so long ago, and so far away, into the immediacy of my own home. Not only was Margrit a part of my own ancient history, but now she was also a part of my very-great-grandfather's ancient history that I was currently trying to recover and bring to life. Frederic's letters were written over 100 years before Capt. George Vancouver rowed into Burrard Inlet to chart the shoreline of a city that would later bear his name. And I was living on the west coast of North America - an area that was still unknown to Europeans until Capt. James Cook made his journeys of discovery some 60 years later. My part of the world was simply remote uncharted wilderness while Frederic de Coninck, Daniel Crommelin, the Culpepers and Fairfaxes were going about their business, having children, and making history.

Mention of 'Culpeper' (Daniel's landlord), owner of Greenway Court manor,
in a letter from Frederic de Coninck to his uncle, Daniel, dated 21 October 1687.
[Frederic left England and started a tannery business in Schiedam, Holland. In this letter he thanks Daniel Crommelin for his hospitality during Frederic's extended visit at Greenway Court.

"My wife [Marie Camin] delivered on the 30th of last month a baby boy who God took back on the third day of his birth. She is doing well enough herself, thank God, and humbly greets you and my aunt [Ann Testart] also. Please convey my humble respects to messieurs Culpeper, Mr. le Capre, the house of Mr. le Chevalier, Mr. and Mademoiselle Rondeau and to yourself to whom I am infinitely grateful. Thank you also for taking the trouble to arrange shipment of our clothes. I do hope that the occasion will arise when I may be able to be of service to you. Then you will know better how appreciative I am..."]

Post Script

On the same day that I finished writing the above essay recalling Margrit's visit to my home the previous year, I received in the mail a packet of information from Jay, a mining historian in Massachussetts, USA, who has helped us with our research on Charles Crommelin. He had recently returned from an excursion to England and coincidentally he included in the packet a lovely brochure of Leeds Castle which shows a nice map of this popular tourist attraction, complete with a 'Fairfax Courtyard' and 'Culpeper Garden'!

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