Select Bliss Miscellany
- From de Blez to Bliss
- The Bliss Charity School
- The Bliss Mill in Chipping Norton
- Early Blisses in New England
- Divided Bliss
- George Bliss, a Convict and a Survivor
- Baron Bliss Day in Belize
From de Blez to Bliss
Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire in the 12th century. It is thought that the name originated from Blay, a village nine kilometers west of Bayeux in Normandy, recorded in 1077 in the form of Bleis.
The Bliss Charity School
The Bliss Charity School in Nether Heyford, Northamptonshire was endowed with income from the lands of William Bliss. William Bliss had been born and brought up in Nether Heyford before moving to London where he was a wine merchant in Southwark.
He died in 1674 and in his will he left £400 for the provision of a free school for the village. This sum included £100 to buy the schoolhouse and a further £300 to acquire land whose rent would pay for the schoolmaster and for the upkeep of the school. The school opened in 1683 and has continued to this day.
The Bliss Mill in Chipping Norton
The town of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire has been considered as the gateway to the Cotswolds. It has also been where the Bliss family began manufacturing woollens and tweeds in the 1750’s. William Bliss mechanized the process in 1816 when he built his first mill there. The mill proved profitable and the Blisses became the town’s leading benefactors.
A new Bliss mill was built in 1872 after the original mill had burned down. William Bliss spent a fortune making it the grandest mill in England, complete with reading room, chapel, worker cottages etc. It was described by one writer as “a stately home with a sink plunger on the top.” The cloth produced was sold as “Silken Leather,” so famous as to inspire a folk song.
However, Bliss forgot to make allowances for this new spending in his will, so that, when he died, the only way to honor his many generous legacies was to sell the mill. The family were legally bound.
The mill continued producing under various owners until its closure in 1980. The building has now been converted into luxury apartments and leisure facilities.
Early Blisses in New England
One Bliss family contributed three early settlers in New England, the brothers Thomas and George from the village of Preston Parva in Northamptonshire and their cousin Thomas from Gloucestershire.
Thomas and George were blacksmiths. They came over together with their families, arriving in Boston around 1638. Thomas was granted land in Braintree in 1639. He took the freeman’s oath in Cambridge in 1642 and relocated to Rehoboth in 1643 where he was one of the early settlers. He died there four years later. Brother George meanwhile had moved to Newport, Rhode Island where he practiced his trade as a blacksmith. George was listed in the Colonial Records as a freeman in 1655 and as a land purchaser in Newport in 1660. He died there in 1667.
Thomas may have emigrated with his cousins around 1638, for he owned land in Hartford on the Connecticut river by 1639. By the time of his death in 1650 or 1651, he owned 58 acres of land and a house lot on a road west of Lafayette Street in Hartford.
The Bliss brothers of Concord, Massachusetts were divided by the Revolutionary War, with Daniel and Samuel on the British side and Thomas and Joseph on the American.
In 1775 two British officers came to Concord to reconnoiter the town and find out about the munitions being made and stored. They used the Bliss home in the center of town from where they could observe all activity. The population quickly became aware of their presence and threatened to kill Daniel Bliss and his visitors. Late at night Daniel led his guests by an unwatched road and fled to Boston. A few weeks later he sent his younger brother Samuel to Concord to get his family safely away.
Daniel’s estate was the only one in Concord that was confiscated in the revolution. The family went to Quebec in 1781 and he fought with General Burgoyne’s army. In 1786, the war being over, he resigned his commission and moved to Fredericton, the capital of the new colony of New Brunswick. He built up a law practice there and later became a Chief Justice.
Judge Bliss was not allowed to settle again in the land of his birth and could not even claim the portraits of his parents which had been bequeathed to him.
Thomas Theodore Bliss was a younger brother of Loyalist Daniel and he took the American side. He had a commission as captain and the command of a company of artillery. In the campaign against Quebec in 1775 (where his brother Daniel was among the defenders), he was captured and sent to New York. Daniel used his considerable influence to prevent his brother’s release and he was not in fact released until the British forces evacuated New York after the peace.
After Daniel had fled in 1775, Samuel led his older brother’s wife and children away to safety in Boston. When the battle of Concord was fought, the people were suspicious of Samuel and believed that he had served as a guide to the British troops. He was brought before the magistrates but later discharged. He later was commissioned a lieutenant in the Royal Highland Emigrants. After the war he received for his services an island in the Bay of Fundy and became a merchant in St. Andrew, New Brunswick.
Meanwhle Joseph Bliss, the youngest son, had become a clerk in the bookstore of Henry Knox in Boston. When Knox became Washington’s chief of artillery, Joseph accompanied him and served in Knox’s regiment throughout the war. He was present at the battle of Brandywine and achieved the rank of captain and paymaster.
George Bliss, a Convict and a Survivor
It seemed that George Bliss of Sevenoaks in Kent just wanted to get transported. In July 1838, at the age of 19, he stole “a frock, a jacket, a knife, a tobacco bar, and a half handkerchief, the property of Thomas Hunt.” Six months later, he stole “a piece of meat, value of three shillings, the property of John Spencer.” This time he was sentenced to death, a verdict that was later reduced to transportation for life.
George left England on the Parkfield in May 1839, arriving in Australia in September after a voyage of 109 days. He was described at that time as follows:
“5’3” 3/4 tall, sallow/freckled complexion, black hair, brown eyes, nose inclining a little to the left side, several small moles on both arms; “G Bliss” in red ink on the lower part of right; scar on back of each finger of left hand, two scars on cap of left knee.”
The rest of his life appeared uneventful until the end. He was granted a property named Spring Valley and was given a conditional pardon in 1854 (meaning that he was free to remain in
Australia but could not return to England). He lived on another fifty years before his death in 1915 at the age of ninety six – when he fell off a horse!
Baron Bliss Day in Belize
Baron Bliss, the national benefactor of Belize (formerly known as British Honduras), never set foot in the country. Born Henry Bliss and assuming the Baron name from the Portuguese Baron Barreto title which his family had received in the 1820’s, he was said to have been disinherited by his family after keeping a hansom cab waiting. He then made a fortune from speculating in oil shares. In 1911 he contracted polio and was paralyzed from the waist down. So he decided to travel the world for the rest of his days on his luxury yacht.
In 1920 he left his wife and his native land for the Caribbean and spent the next six years of his life aboard his yacht Sea King II off the Bahamas and Trinidad. After a bad bout of food poisoning in Trinidad, the baron took up an invitation from Belize’s Attorney General, Willoughby Bullock, and dropped anchor off Belize in early 1926. But the baron’s health soon took a turn for the worse and doctors pronounced that the end was near. He then signed a will on the Sea King II leaving most of his million pound fortune to Belize.
Over the decades the Baron Bliss Trust established by this will has
funded the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts, the Fort George Lighthouse, the Bliss School of Nursing, and several health centers and libraries. Baron Bliss Day, a national holiday in Belize, occurs on March 9, the anniversary of the baron’s death.
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