Select Willis Miscellany

 

Here are some Wills/Willis stories
and
accounts over the years:

 

Wills and Willis Today

The Wills and Willis numbers are about 113,000 today.  Willis outnumbers Wills by almost three to one.

Numbers (000’s) Wills Willis Total
UK    15    32    47
America     9    36    45
Elsewhere     7    14    21
Total    31    82   113



The Wills of Wreyland Manor House



In
1577
Henry Wyll of Christow purchased part of the manor of Wreyland from
Lord
Compton.  This was inherited in 1599 by
his son Thomas Willes of Bridford who also purchased an additional
share.  However, that additional share had
been lost
by the time of his death in 1619.  It is
interesting to speculate how Henry Wyll gained his wealth.
Was it from mining activity in Christow?

In
his will, proved at Totnes in 1710, Benjamin Wills, clothier of
Wreyland, left
five shillings to the poor people living in the manor of Wrayland and a
one
fourth part of a messuage in Wreyland to his brother Christopher’s
grandson
Benjamin Wills.  He also left two weaving
looms to Richard Willmead who was an apprentice to his deceased brother
John.  To John Wills, son of his deceased
brother Christopher, he left two cows and a tenement that was named
Eastawray
.

 

 

Dr. Francis Willis, A Commemorative Monument


There is a monument to Dr. Willis in the transept of his
local Church of Thomas Becket at Greatford in Lincolnshire.  The commemorative inscription reads:

 

“Sacred to the memory of
The Rev’d. Francis Willis MD
Who died on 5 December 1807
In the 90th year of his age.
He was the third son of the Revd. John Willis of Lincoln,
A descendant of an ancient family of the same name
That resided formerly at Fenny Compton in Warwickshire.
He studied at Oxford; was Fellow and sometime
Vice-Principal of Brazen Nose College: Where in obedience to his
father, he
entered into holy orders. But pursuing the bent of his natural taste
and
inclination he took the degree of Doctor of Physic in the same
University and
continued the practice of the profession to the last hour of his life.
By his first wife Mary, the youngest daughter of the Rev’d. John Curtois of Branston
in this county, he had five sons who survived him. 
By his second wife he had no issue.
Initiated early into habits of observation and research, he attained the
highest eminence in his profession and was happily the chief agent in removing
the malady which affected his present majesty in the year 1789.  On that
occasion he displayed an energy and acuteness of mind which excited the admiration and procured for him the esteem of the nation. The kindness and
benevolence of his disposition were testified by the tears and lamentations
which followed him to the grave.”

 

 

Browne Willis of
Buckingham

Browne
Willis
was an important presence in the local politics in Buckingham in the
early
1700’s, not least because he chose to spend much of his income on local
projects.  In 1702 he had been
instrumental in reviving the Fenny Stratford market and from 1704 to
1709 he
had spent nearly £800 on beautifying Bletchley church.
However, his constant building projects,
antiquarian research and coin collecting, and the demands of his large
family
saw him severely depreciate his estate.

By
1728 his estate was reported to be
worth only £935 per annum compared to the £1,500 or more at the
beginning of
the century.  Perhaps declining income
partly explained his famously dilapidated appearance.

A
lady meeting him for the
first time in 1740 found him still wearing the greatcoat tailored for
his
election at Buckingham in 1705 and now so dirty as to be ‘quite
disagreeable to
sit by him at table.’  Her opinion of him on further acquaintance
was
that ‘with
one of the honest hearts in the world, he has one of the oddest heads
that ever
dropped out of the moon.  Extremely well
versed in coins, he knows hardly anything of mankind.’

Willis Hill in
Fredericksburg

The
Willis
cemetery lies on Willis Hill, one mile west of the town of
Fredericksburg in
Virginia.  Colonel Henry Willis was one
of the founders of Fredericksburg in 1727 and many of his descendants
are
buried there.

One
historian has it that Colonel Henry Willis, “the Top Man of the
Town” as he was called, buried his last wife, Mildred Washington
Gregory who
was George Washington’s aunt godmother, there.
Henry’s son Lewis Willis was probably buried there, although
there is no
marker for his grave.  His grandson Byrd
C. Willis was definitely buried there, with the stone reading:

“Colonel
Byrd C.
Willis
Born August 29, 1781
Died October
1st, 1846.”

But Colonel Willis had paid
little attention to the management of the Willis Hill estate, instead
spending
his time fox hunting, racing, and attending parties.
He ran through his money and in 1825 sold out
and moved to Florida.

The
family’s prior
connections to George Washington eventually paid dividends, however. 
At
Tallahassee in Florida, h
is
daughter Catherine
attracted
the attentions of Achilles Murat, the ex-Prince of Naples and a nephew
of
Napoleon Bonaparte.  Because of this
Washington
connection, his family approved the match.  She
became Princess Murat and Napoleon III, when Emperor of France,
placed her at the head of the
nobility
of France and honored her with a seat
on his right
.

 

Death or
Canada

Death
or Canada
,
broadcast in Ireland in
2008, was a mini-series that followed the fate of the Protestant Willis
family
as, at the height of the Famine in 1847, they abandoned their home in
SW Ireland
and gambled everything on finding new lives for themselves in North
America.

They
fled Ireland on a coffin ship and terror
followed in their wake.  John and Mary
Willis lost four of their five children during the voyage to typhus.  The remnants of their family eventually made
it to Toronto which, like other Canadian ports, had been overwhelmed by
typhus-infested refugees and had begun erecting temporary fever sheds
.

 

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