Sylvester Estes (c1522-1579), Fisherman of Deal, 52 Ancestors #29

Sylvester Estes was born probably in or near Deal, Kent, England about 1522, well before baptismal records were kept, beginning in 1559.  He would have married before that time as well, so we don’t know his wife’s maiden name, only that her name was Jone.  Their marriage date of 1545 is estimated based on the birth year of their first known child in 1547 and his birth date estimate is based on that as well, so he could have been born earlier.  Jone Eustes, Sylvester’s wife, was buried on May 15, 1561 at St. Leonard’s Church in Deal, Kent.  Her grave is not marked.  Tombstones were not being used at that time in history.

st Leonard sylvester

Sylvester, described as “emeritus fisherman,” died and was buried on June 7, 1579 in the churchyard at Ringwould, his last name spelled Eastye.  His grave is unmarked as well.

st nicholas ringwould sylvester

What little we do know about Sylvester, aside from his death and burial, comes from a court record.

On December 10, 1549, Sylvester, along with John Lamond, appeared before the Consistory Court of Canterbury (approximately 20 miles from Deal), charged by the Rector of Deal for not paying their tithes from their herring catch.  Lamond asserted that “in the time of his rememberance … he paid no tithe.” Sylvester responded that in the past two years he and his colleagues had taken two or three “last” (a dozen 6-9 pound barrels) and that “the school of herring hath always comined there away but they had not netteth there to take them well before that time.” It has been suggested that the failure to pay the tithe was a political gesture, rather than just oversight, church tithes becoming increasingly unpopular at that time.

Stewart Estes provides the following information about tithes, especially upon fish:

From the above history of Sylvester Eastes, it appears that he may have been an early tax protester. A tithe (from Old English teogoþa “tenth”) is a one-tenth part of something, paid as a usually voluntary contribution or as a tax or levy, usually to support a church. Historically tithes could be paid in kind, such as agricultural products. Farmers had to offer a tenth of their harvest, while craftsmen had to offer a tenth of their production.

In the Middle Ages the tithe from the Old Testament was expanded, through a differentiation between a Great Tithe and a Little Tithe. The Great Tithe was analogous to the tithe in the Bible where one had to tithe on grain and large farm animals. The Little Tithe added fruits of the field: kitchen herbs, fruit, vegetables and small farm animals.

After the Reformation the tithe was increasingly taken over from the church by the state. In England, church tithes remained until the 19th century. The right to receive tithes was granted to the English churches by King Ethelwulf in 855. The Saladin tithe was a royal tax, but assessed using ecclesiastical boundaries, in 1188. Tithes were given legal force by the Statute of Westminster of 1285. The Dissolution of the Monasteries led to the transfer of many tithe rights from the Church to secular landowners, and then in the 1530s to the Crown.

Tithes of fish (and mills) were the last survivors of what were referred to as personal tithes. Traditionally, fish taken from the sea or common rivers were not titheable under the principal that they were ferae naturae or wild animals. The only exception was if a local custom existed.

A 1549 statute made a tithe of fish payable only in parishes where it had customarily been paid within the past 40 years, such as those on the sea coast. This would likely include Kent. The system ended with the Tithe Commutation Act 1836, which replaced tithes with a rent charge decided by a Tithe Commission.

Based on church records, we know that Sylvester and Jone had 3 children.  It’s likely that they had several more who may have died or not been reflected in the records.  If they were married about 1545 and Jone died in 1561, according to the burial record, they would have had 16 years as a married couple to produce offspring, so they could have been expected to have had approximately 8 children.  The births of those children would only have been recorded in church records after 1559.  This suggests that there are several children born, and probably buried, as children.  However, given that daughter Jone was married in Ripple in 1563, it wouldn’t hurt to check the Ripple church records to see if Sylvester and Jone’s children were baptized there.  Marriages traditionally took place in the bride’s church, although just two years earlier, Jone’s mother, Jone, was buried at St. Leonard’s in Deal.

Jone’s untimely death in her 30s would have left Sylvester, a fisherman, with 3 young children and no wife.  His children, at the time of Jone’s death would have been 14, 12 and 6.  It’s likely that his mother, Anny, if she was still living, would have raised his children while he provided for the entire family by fishing.

The three known children of Sylvester Eastes and Jone are as follows:

1. Jone Eastye, born 1547, probably at Deal, Kent, married on 9 July 1563, at Ripple, Kent, located between Ringwould and Deal, to Henrye Baker, born in 1546, they had a daughter, Jone, who married her first cousin Henry Estes, the son of Jone’s brother.

2. Henry Eastye, a fisherman and master-owner of a pinasse (two masted vessel), the Mynion, born in 1549, at Deal, Kent. He married Mary Rand on July 3, 1574, in Deal. “Henry Eastice of the parish of Deale in the County of Kent fisherman,” made his will on April 30, 1590 at Deal. Mary was buried June 19, 1601 at St Leonard’s, Kent.

3. Robert Eastye, mariner, born about 1555 at Deal, Kent, died about 1616 at age 61 in Ringwould, Kent. He married Anne Woodward on December 2, 1591 at Sholden, Kent. Anne was born about 1574 (or in 1570), died between the making of her will on April 21, 1630 and when she was buried on May 18, 1630 at Ringwould. Robert and Anne spent the first few years of their married life at Sholden, moving to Ringwould about 1595.

Due to the change in the English religion from Catholic to Protestant, these children would have been baptized as Protestants, while Sylvester and Jone would have been baptized at Catholics.

In the Ringwould church records, Sylvester’s burial is the very first Estes record, recorded thus:

Jan. 7, 1579 – Silvester Eastye buried

This begs the question of why, with his wife buried at St.Leonard’s 18 years earlier, was Silvester buried at Ringwould?

The second Estes record at Ringwould doesn’t follow for another 17 years, and it’s the christening of Silvester, the son of Robert, who is the son of Silvester buried in January of 1579.  Between 1579 and 1596, Robert has married Anne Woodward at Shoulden in 1591, with their first child, Matthew being baptized there in 1592.

Sept. 26, 1596 – Silvester Estey, son of Robert, christened

Robert Estes and Anne Woodward continued to be members of St. Nicholas of Ringwould until Robert’s death about 1616.

Between 1561 when Jone was buried in Ringwould, to 1591 when Robert was married at Sholden, we have church records of this family involved with four different churches, albeit in close geographic proximity of a mile and a half range.  As you can see, below, the entire circle between all 4 locations, using today’s roads which are not the most direct routes, is only a total of 7 miles.

kent 4 villages


Sylvester saw a lot of changes in his lifetime.  His father died when he was 11 or 12, leaving his mother a widow.  Sylvester may well have been apprenticed to the mariners to learn a trade in order to be able to support himself, and possibly his widowed mother and younger siblings as well.

Changes were afoot in England itself as well.  England was in the process of politically becoming a Protestant nation with the King at the head of the church, instead of a Catholic nation with the Pope at the head of the church.  In the 1530s, Henry VIII wanted to remarry because his wife did not produce a male heir, and his Catholicism prevented that, especially when the Pope refused to annul his marriage.  As a result Henry renounced Catholicism and became Protestant, ordered the destruction of all things Catholic, such as monasteries and abbeys.  The churches “became” Protestant overnight, along with their parishioners.  In some places, of course, there was strong resistance and the resisters were called ‘recussants.’  That did not seem to be a problem in Kent.

In addition to the national issues, there were local and regional problems to contend with as well.

In October 1536, when Sylvester would have been about 14, four Flemish ships entered the Downs, landed and plundered the local boats of their “herrings, hogbushes, arrows and beer.”  A few days later, those same ships robbed a Deal fishing boat of its entire catch and then sent a pinnace ashore on St. Leonard’s Day (November 6  and feast day at Deal’s St. Leonard’s church) to cut the cable of Captain Rychardson’s boat and tow it away.  Rychardson’s inventory of his losses reflects a typical fishing boat of the time – two long bows, sheaves of arrows, barrels of beer, bread, candles, boots and bonnets.  Sylvester’s ship probably was provisioned with the same things.

Piracy, especially in the Downs was very troublesome during this time.  In 1536 Henry VII made it an offense punishable by death in some cases.

Queen Elizabeth, after coming to reign in 1558 did not take kindly to pirates either.  In one month alone, sometime after 1573, William Holstock, commander of the Queen’s Navy, captured pirates of several nationalities from 35 rogue ships and sent about 1000 captives ashore at Deal.  But then, he too turned rogue and captured 15 merchant ships.

In the 1539, Henry VIII ordered the construction of three castles to defend the Downs which were heavily exposed, faced Europe and were the most likely places for a Catholic army to make landfall in England.  Deal Castle was one of the castles, and still stands majestically today.  It was built, along with Sandown and Walmer Castle, in about 18 months in 1539 and 1540 utilizing 1400 men along with local laborers.

This was a very important, high profile project.  In fact, King Henry himself visited the Downs to “inspect his defences” on Easter Sunday in 1539.  He fully expected an invasion from Catholic Europe.

Sylvester would have been 17 or 18 at the time, a very impressionable age, and if he weren’t fishing already, he was surely involved in the castle construction.  If he was fishing, the influx of workers certainly created an unending market for their fish and probably just about anything else you could create to sell to the workers.  It would certainly have been an economic boon for the region around Deal.  It would have been an exciting time to be a young man as well – an era full of adventure.

After the castles’ construction, garrisons were assigned.  King Henry’s policy was to make any defense the responsibility of the local district and that garrisons were drawn from the area and officers were drawn from the local gentry.  Soldiers were expected to provide their own weapons – a dagger, sword, halberd and at their own expense.

The expected attack from Catholic Europe did not materialize in 1540, probably causing everyone along the Kent coastline to heave a collective sigh of relief.  Piracy and smuggling continued in the Downs, but the next threat from another nation would be Spain in 1588, nine years after Sylvester’s death.

Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII, ascended the throne in 1558 and inspected the castles in Kent in 1573.  After leaving Dover, the Queen journeyed through Walmer and Deal before being carried on a litter along the Ancient Highway to Sandwich.  You can rest assured that every person who was able lined the roads to catch a glimpse of the Queen.

queen eliz litter

Perhaps Sylvester Estes, then 51 years old, was among them with his son Robert, just 18.  Did they see the Queen?


I expected that we would find the Estes family in one church and that the family members would remain within that church for generations.  This also implies that they lived in the same location.  That’s not what we’ve found.  In the 5 known generations beginning with Nicholas and ending with Abraham Estes who immigrated to the US in 1673, we know that the Estes family participated in services in at least 8 churches, not including Sandwich where one can rest assured that Abraham attended church when he was an apprentice there.  That’s a lot of mobility for an early family whose main avenue for transportation would have been on foot.

It’s also somewhat unusual in that early vassalage arrangements would have precluded mobility between farms, let along between towns, and in essence kept the vassals tied to the lands of the monarchy or their lords in perpetuity.  Given that history, finding this much movement, even within a region, just a few years later is quite surprising.  Feudalism, meaning feudal land tenure, began to decline with the War of the Roses in the mid-1400s (1455-1485), effectively ended when the country became Protestant in 1536, but wasn’t abolished in England until 1660.  Under the feudal system, tenants, or vassals, would not have been allowed to move around from place to place.

So, why did they move?  Well, knowing the Estes family, perhaps because they couldn’t, then they could, and did, because they could.

This pattern of movement tells us that the Estes family was likely not tied to land, per se, at least not by the 1500s – so maybe tenant farmers working the lands of others, or craftsmen – or eventually, as we know, mariners.  Mariners are tied to the sea, not the land, so they would have lived relatively close to the shore.  Most of these churches and communities certainly fit that criteria.

The movement of people is more the norm, over time, than not, unless there is a constraining factor.  We do sometimes find families in villages nestled in the mountains of some remote location that haven’t left since the beginning of written records, which is often reflected in the very unusual markers in their Y DNA, suggesting a population bottleneck of sorts.  In other words, mutations happened but no one left to spread them around, so they are only found in a particular region.  For genealogists, these are blessings in disguise, because they can help us pinpoint locations where our ancestor lived, if enough people test.  They will, of course, carry different surnames today, but their DNA will match, especially on unusual markers that have mutated in that region.

We find that often people migrated in groups – probably family units – increasing their chances of survival if there are others available who have a vested interest in helping out if trouble loomed.  Someone else who wouldn’t hesitate to paint themselves blue and hurl projectiles at Caesar’s ships, if the need arose.

So, if we look at the more ancient aspect of the Estes DNA, what does it tell us?  Where did the Estes family come from, before the advent of surnames?  And does it tell us anything about the d’Este family myth?

Who Settled Near Deal?

Let’s start by looking at who settled in the Deal area.  We know that Ceasar said that in the year 55 this area was inhabited by “Belgic and Celtic” tribes, a mixture of Germanic and Celtic stock who had arrived on “these shores a generation before but had continued to trade with their counterparts on the continent.”  He says specifically that:

“The coast (was populated) by Belgic immigrants who came to plunder and make war – nearly all of them retaining the names of tribes from which they originated – and later settled to till the soil. They think it is wrong to eat hares or chickens or geese but they breed them as pets. As the cold is less severe, the climate is more temperate than in Gaul.”

Caesar tells us that his fleet encountered Celts hurling missiles from the soaring cliffs at Dover.  The fleet then sailed 8 miles, hugging the coast until they came to ‘low lying land’ (Saxon, ‘dylle’).

white cliffs map

Warring Britons, their naked bodies daubed with woad and their wild hair stiffened with lime relentlessly rode their sleek chariots into battle and drove the Romans from the shore.

celtic 2 wheel chariot

An Ancient Briton from Barnard’s New Complete & Authentic History of England, 1783, below.ancient briton

I can’t tell you how I wish someone had made a painting of that!  Naked men painted blue with spikey hair in a chariot.  Is that legal?

Caesar tells us more, and it’s complimentary in spite of the naked blue spikey factor.

“The most civilised people are those in Kent which is entirely a coastal area; they have much the same customs as the Gauls. Most of those living further inland do not sow corn but live on milk and flesh and wear clothes of animal skins. All the Britons, though, dye their skins with woad which produces a blue colour and thereby look all the more terrifying in battle.

By far the most civilized inhabitants are those living in Kent.  The population is large, the ground thickly studded with homesteads…and the cattle numerous.

They do not cut their hair but shave all the rest of the body except the head and upper lip. Wives are shared between groups of ten or twelve men, usually made up of brothers or fathers and sons. The children are reckoned as belonging to the man each girl marries first.”

Now, that would play havoc with the DNA is more ways than one.  So, you could wind up being the father to your own brother, or nephew….so you really could be your own grandpa.  Don’t ponder this too long – it will only make you crazy.

We know that the word Deal itself is derived from the Saxon word “dylle” meaning low lying land or “del” referring to a dale or valley.

A Druid shrine was found on the eastern slope of Mill Hill, just a few blocks from St. Leonard’s Church in Deal, rich in Celtic art from the second century BC.

In fact, the “Deal Warrior” was found here with his armour, wearing what looks to be a crown with a LaTene style of incised pattern.

deal warrior

The Celtic LaTene culture followed the Hallstatt in Iron Age Europe about 450BCE.

Halstatt latene 2

Above, an overview of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultural regions. The core Hallstatt territory (800 BCE) is shown in solid yellow, the area of influence by 500 BCE (HaD) in light yellow. The core territory of the La Tène culture (450 BCE) is shown in solid green, the eventual area of La Tène influence by 50 BCE in light green. The territories of some major Celtic tribes are labelled. Map drawn after Atlas of the Celtic World, by John Haywood (2001: 30–37).

celtic europe expansion

This map shows the Celtic expansion in Europe, including the British Isles, and Italy.

Ok, so are the Estes men Celtic?


The good news is that the Estes STR markers are quite unique.  The bad news is that the Estes STR markers are quite unique.  The STR markers, or short tandem repeats, are the marker results that you receive when you order the 12, 25, 37, 67 or 111 marker tests from Family Tree DNA.

The Estes men don’t match men with other surnames at 111, 67 or 37 markers.  In fact, their marker values at that level are very unique.  The good news is that this means that it’s very easy to tell when someone matches the group, or doesn’t.  The bad news is that there are no breadcrumbs left by matching other people.

Breadcrumbs?  What do I mean by breadcrumbs?

A DNA breadcrumb, in this instance, could be one of two things.  First, it could be an extended haplogroup SNP test that would tell me by virtue of who I match closely on STR markers that my ancestor’s haplogroup is likely to be the same as the other person who took the extended testing.  In other words, a poor man’s pseudo SNP test.  No such luck, in my case.

The second DNA breadcrumb would be the matches maps – where are the oldest ancestors of my closest matches found?  This can be important in locating on origin in continental Europe.  In my case, the closest not-Estes matches with locations are 12 and 25 markers.  It’s not that I can’t use these, it’s that they are far back in time, quite far sometimes, so far that the common ancestor may not be on the same twig of the Y tree, especially with haplogroup R, old R1b1a2.

And yes, of course, the Estes men are smack dab in the middle of haplogroup R – in fact, L21.

Estes Y hap

On the first map, below, the locations of the oldest known European ancestors of the Estes matches are shown.  There aren’t many in continental Europe.  Most are in the British Isles.  Keep in mind that none of these hold up (or perhaps didn’t test) above 25 markers, so the common ancestors with these individuals would be far back in time, hundreds to thousands of years – which is exactly what we are looking for – sometime around Caesar’s arrival in the year 55 when the woad covered Celts were pummeling his ships from the white cliffs of Dover.

estes matches map 25

The red balloons below show the oldest ancestors of 12 marker matches.

estes matches map 12

Hey, what are those two in Italy?

Turns out one is in Rome and other shows it’s in France, but it’s still in the right general location to perhaps be an indication that some of the Estes DNA is living in the region.  That doesn’t do anything to put to bed the oral history of the d’Este family.  In fact, it fans those flames a bit.  If those matches held above 12 markers, it would fan those flames a lot…..but they don’t.

However, the general distribution pattern indeed looks like the traditional “Celtic” L21 migration into the British Isles, shown below.

Eupedia L21

It is believed that subgroup L21 was born about 4000 years ago in the Celtic region of Europe, perhaps in Southwest Germany.

A few days ago, Britain’s DNA released information about L21 which equates to their SNP S145.

The map below, for S145 shows their Pretani distribution.  The best definition I could find for Pretani was that the earliest known reference to the people of the British Isles, made by the Greeks between 330 and 300 BC describes them as the Isles of the Pretani, the ‘Pretani’ thus becoming the most ancient inhabitants of Britain and Ireland to whom a definite name can be given. In Ireland these ancient British Pretani (or Britanni) were later to become known as the Cruthin, while in Scotland they became known as the Picts.


While their map does not include any downstream variants, it still meshes with the Eupedia L21 map.  It looks like the Celts stepped ashore in England and started moving north and west and didn’t stop until they had to.  Of course, they were followed by Angles and Saxons and Romans and Normans so they did have some pressure to keep moving.  Apparently not all moved on, because there are still between 13% and 15% in the east and southeast of England, as determined by DNA testing of people whose 4 grandparents lived in that location – implying that they are not recent immigrants to the region.

So, what next?

Ok, so the Estes men are descended from Celts.  Now we at least know that much.

But I’d still like to know if my ancestors were d’Este Kings in Italy wearing crowns, Druid priests in England wearing crowns, or blue woad painted Celts with spiked hair driving chariots while defending the white cliffs of Dover.  Can’t you just see them here?

white cliffs of dover 2

I mean, it does make quite a bit of difference in the telling of the family story.

I want to know more.  I’d like to test for more SNPs to see if I can refine what we know, but which SNPs to test?

The Estes men have joined the R-L21 project and the British Isles by County project, and I’ve asked the administrator for haplogroup L21 for suggestions about how to test further.  Part of the decision about how to test will be financially based.  If he can tell me, based on his experience that what I really need to do is test one or two SNPs based on what he sees in terms of matching within other L21 subgroups, I’ll happily do that.  If he tells me that I need to do the Geno 2.0 or Big Y, I’ll probably do that as well, but I’ll be eating hotdogs and mac and cheese for a few weeks.  But hey, it’s grilling season and genealogy is way more important that eating!

In the L21 project, the Estes men, along with a few thousands of our closest friends are in the group titled “1. L21+ (L11>P312>L21; If you can, test for DF13 status).”  This means, in plain English – you need more testing, so that’s the answer I’m expecting.

What this means is that the testing results are too vanilla to narrow the location origin.  Below are the locations of the oldest ancestors of the “you need more testing” group.

l21 cluster

And for comparison, here’s a subclade of L21 – a group of people who share a terminal SNP further down the tree – and the locations of their most distant ancestors.  If what I’m looking for is a source on continental Europe – this is much more useful than the map above which shows the distribution of L21 over the past 4000 years or so.

l21 subgroup cluster

I did receive a recommendation from the haplogroup L21 project administrator.  Just what I was afraid of – the L21 project administrator wants 2 Big Yfull Y sequence tests from the Estes line – from hopefully our two most divergent men who are definitely from the same family.  This will show which of the SNPs or Novel Variants (personal or family SNPs) they share are actually haplotree branch SNPs and which are family only, meaning much more recent in time.  Makes sense.  I expected this advice, I was just hoping for a less expensive option, but as the administrator says, we are, indeed, the explorers in this new field.  Well, good thing we are Celts now isn’t it!

Now, all I have to find the appropriate Estes male candidates and the funds.  If you have an Estes in your family tree, you can contribute directly to the Estes DNA project towards the tests, which will be about $1200 in total.  Any amount is appreciated and it all helps.

To put this in perspective, raising these funds has to be easier than getting naked, shaving my body, painting myself blue and liming my hair while driving a chariot and throwing projectiles off of the white cliffs of Dover!!!



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14 thoughts on “Sylvester Estes (c1522-1579), Fisherman of Deal, 52 Ancestors #29

  1. I am of Celtic descent, possibly a Pict at L21>DF13>L1335>L1065>S744. As my wife says, “many are called, few are Pict”. I keep reading about Woad. What is it and where can I buy some?

  2. This is not in reference to your blog post but I do read all of your very interesting posts. My husband and I have both done the family tree DNA testing (2009). There is so very much we do not understand about how to use the results. I have been able to prove my great grandfathers claim he was a Beck, although illegitimate. But, although my husband (James Howard Perry) has numerous marker 37 matches, none of them carry the Perry surname. How can this be? We have a paperwork trail that carries back 6 generations in the Perry line? Is there an explanation for this? Thank you, Mary Jo Beck Perry

    Sent from my iPad


    • Hi Mary Jo. Well, it’s either one of two things. Either no one in his line has tested, which is possible. Or, he’s not a Perry biologically. Has he taken the Family Finder test and does he match any Perry relatives or descendants there? What about at Ysearch or

  3. What a great post about our common Estes ancestors! Thanks so much for all the research and photos/graphics. Very nice. As for genetic testing, although I’ve tested positive for P312 . . . that’s as far as it goes so far – I’ll definitely be saving up for the Big Y at some point in the future to see what my elusive Estes terminal SNP actually is. Thanks again Roberta!

  4. Thank you for writing this blog – I look forward to every new post and have found it very interesting! By the way, the Forge in Deal, Kent showed up as “for sale” on a real estate site I was looking at for the area, (daydreaming).

  5. Pingback: Robert Eastes (1555-1616), Householder in Ringwould, 52 Ancestors #30 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  6. Pingback: Finding Moses Estes (1711-1787), 52 Ancestors #69 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  7. Pingback: Moses Estes (c 1742-1813), Distiller of Fine Brandy and Cyder, 52 Ancestors #72 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

    • I write the 52 Ancestor articles about my ancestors as part of what I do, meaning both genealogy and genetic genealogy. I began the Estes Y DNA project to attempt to prove which Estes lines were related to each other in about 2002, and to prove or disprove if the line was from Italy originally. You are welcome to test your autosomal DNA, which is the Family Finder test, at Family Tree DNA and join the Estes project to see who you might match. If you need a brief primer about DNA for genealogy, this is a good article.

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