In a comment on Meaning of term Sojourner on 1794 Marriage Record at Marystow (Devon) for John Creber? @ColeValleyGirl alerted me to the existence of a Settlement Examination for a John Creber at Marystow who seemed likely to be my 4th great grandfather. There appear to have been two men named John Creber living in Marystow at that time:

The two John Crebers appear to be 1st cousins.

Yesterday, FindMyPast released an image of the examination document which I have transcribed below:

Hundred of Lifton in DEVON

THE Examination of John Creber an Inmate in the Parish of Marystow in the said Hundred of Lifton taken on Oath this Twentieth day of January in the Year 1801 before us Arthur Kelly and John Cudlipp Esq. two of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the said County, acting in and for the said Hundred touching the place of his last legal Settlement.

WHO SAITH, that about the Year 1788, he lived a Covenant Servant with one John Lang of the Parish of Milton abbot in the said County and received his Wages, he then went to the Parish of Marystow and lived with his Father Richard Creber for five years for his Meat, Drink, Washing and Lodging and has done nothing to gain a Settlement since.

John Creber [signature]

Sworn at Lifton this 20th Day of January 1801 before us ___

Arthur Kelly [signature]

Jno Cudlipp [signature]

I am confident that this examination is of my 4th great grandfather, and not his cousin because the signature on the Examination:

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appears to match the signature on the record of his marriage to Harriet Palmer on 9 Jun 1794 at Marystow (when he was described as a Sojourner in the parish):

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The way I am interpreting this new and revisited evidence is that John was born to Richard and Mary either at Milton Abbot, or at Marystow, but either way their parish of settlement was Milton Abbot. It is unclear where John lived between 1773 and 1787, but in about 1788 he was working as a Covenant Servant for John Lang at Milton Abbot, and soon after that he returned/moved to live at Marystow. I think this settlement examination is his acknowledgement that he has no right to settlement in Marystow.

For settlement examination documents like this one would there normally be any follow up documentation expected that might clarify where John lived prior to 1788, what a Covenant Servant was, and why that was an important statement to include at the beginning of this document?

1 Answer 1


The term "covenant servant" would simply refer to the fact that John was bound under some sort of contract to work for John Lang. This was probably an informal agreement, and unless you are extremely lucky I doubt it left a surviving paper trail. It may have been important to note this because the fact that it was contracted employment is evidence in support of him being settled at that time in Milton Abbot.

I would presume that being about age 15 in 1788, John likely lived with his parents before 1788. If he and his parents were still considered to be legally settled in Milton Abbott when he was employed in 1788, there is probably no documentation relating to the move to live with John Lang.

Settlement examinations existed for the purpose of preventing parishes from being forced to provide for poor people who were not legally settled in the parish. Parishes had the right to remove individuals to their home parish if on examination they could not prove residence or employment, and had insufficient means to support themselves and their families. Settlement law was not in place to prevent people from moving from parish to parish, rather it existed to protect parishes. It really varies how strict a parish was about enforcing settlement laws; some parishes carefully examined everybody who moved to the parish who posed the slightest risk, while other parishes only went to this trouble if someone was in real need of poor relief. Thus the survival of documentation relating to settlement can be very variable.

In conjunction with settlement examinations (and the corresponding removal orders), the other documentation that may have survived is a settlement certificate. These were certificates produced by a parish stating that the person was chargeable to that parish. Again, their survival can be very variable, and would likely be archived in the same collection or alongside the settlement examination records. In this case I doubt a settlement certificate existed because it probably would have been mentioned in the examination.

You can conclude from the settlement examination that in 1801 due to lack of employment or for some other reason, John was at risk of needing poor relief. You interpretation is correct; the examination suggests that he was still legally settled in Milton Abbot, and had no right to poor relief in Marystowe.

What does surprise me is that this settlement examination makes no mention of his wife and children. The similar signature is suggestive of this being this being the same man who married Harriet Palmer, but I do not think it is absolutely conclusive, so I would take care to trace both John Crebers to try to more definitively distinguish them.

  • At the time of the examination John and Harriet had three children and their eldest Mary Ann died 12 months later aged 6 so if she were sickly then perhaps these were the signs that the family could be likely to come looking for parish support soon, if not already. I guess the examination is "forcing" John to acknowledge he had no entitlement.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 1:02

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