Myths & Legends: Viscounts Lifford

Updated: 6 November 2013

The Myth

Our Hewitt family is descended from the Viscounts Lifford, whose family name is Hewitt.

This one has been doing the rounds for more than a hundred years.  As I detailed in ‘The Elusive John Hewitt‘, my Field cousin Henry Claylands Field wrote to William Hughes Field in 1897 that his grandmother Sophia Ann Hughes had married:

John Hewitt, a son or grandson of the Earl of Lifford who was also Dean of Cloyne. He was an officer in the army, I think the Guards; but retired on his marriage, which was probably considered a mere alliance by his people.

And pretty consistently when I make contact with members of the extended Hewitt family they are fascinated by this story and spent quality time trying to find out if it’s true.

The Truth

IT IS NOT TRUE!

Being Viscounts, the Lifford Hewitts are very well documented.  The first Viscount Lifford was James Hewitt who was born in 1712 so could have been the father of our John Hewitt.  He did, in fact, have a son called John.  John was born in 1756, spent time as Dean of Cloyne in Ireland and died in 1804.

So our John Hewitt was not the son or grandson of a Viscount Lifford.  He was born around 1747 and so could not have been one of the Viscount’s legitimate offspring.

But I am related to them – through my grandmother and a couple of marriages.  My family tree programme says that James is the “paternal grandfather of husband of 2nd great grand niece of wife of 7th great grand uncle” of me.  Which in English means that a 7th great-uncle’s sister-in-law married a Lifford descendent.

My personal view is that our John was trying to impress his rich in-laws – he was, after all, significantly older than his wife.  But then William Hughes was too rich to be that stupid (?) and probably checked out things before letting his daughter and heir Sophia marry.

So…

There is the possibility that our John Hewitt was a cousin of the Viscount.  So what do we know of the Lifford Hewitts before James First Viscount?

James’ father was William Hewitt, a draper and Mayor of Coventry in 1744.  So far I’ve ascertained that William and his wife Hannah Lewis had three sons:

– James, 1st Viscount (1712-1789)

– William (1719-1781) – lived in the West Indies – had no children

– Joseph (1725-1813) – had no children

So our John wasn’t a nephew of James.

Which brings us to Cumberland. William Snr was born in Rockliffe, Cumberland in 1683.

The Hewitt Papers

Amongst the Hewitt Papers held at the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa) is the ‘Notes and Memoranda, Genealogical, Historical and Personal of the family of Hewitt’ were written in 1891 by Rev. James Alexander Hewitt of the ‘Cape of Good Hope’.  Their catalog lists it as (my emphasis):

A2  A genealogical, historical and personal record of the Cumberland Hewitts. Known as “Statesmen” the highest form of regard in the North. There are no less than 13 lines from which descendants may exist. Scattered during the Civil Wars in reign of Charles I.

This implies that there are LOTS of Hewitts out there from Cumberland.  Too many to go chasing willy-nilly.

And thanks to the lovely Zofia at the University of the Witwatersrand I now have a copy of this part of the Hewitt papers.  I shall start out saying that our John is not mentioned in the papers.  However, there are mentioned many potential avenues of inquiry.

From a family bible the Rev James traces his Hewitt family back to a Henry Hewitt born in Blackrigg near Rockcliffe, Cumberland.

His interest was in working out which Henry Hewitt was his.  From this seems to have spread an interest in the various Hewitt families that sprang from Cumberland.  He noted that there were also Hewitt families in Bedfordshire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Lancashire which he thought came from ‘the time of the Conqueror at Manor Hewits – near Ashford in Kent’.  He also mentions a branch in Warwickshire!  The possibilities seem to be getting bigger rather than smaller!

The Cumberland Hewitts

The Hewitt family of Cumberland which would ultimately produce the Viscounts Lifford line began in Rockcliffe which is a few miles outside of Carlisle.  The parish registers there started in 1679.  The Rev James notes that at that time there were 6 heads of families called Hewitt:

  1. Robert Hewitt whose son William was baptised in September 1679
  2. James Hewitt who married Mary Urwin in November 1679 (grandparents of the 1st Viscount Lifford)
  3. Allen Hewitt whose son Thomas was baptised in July 1680
  4. Peter Hewitt whose daughter June was baptised in July 1680
  5. George Hewitt of Castletown whose daughter Sarah was baptised in March 1681
  6. William Hewitt of Churchtown whose son Henry was baptised in 1686

These Hewitt heads could be the g-grandfather or grandfather of our John Hewitt?  Although I continue to be dubious.  Why?  Because none of these names appear in our Hewitt branch.

The Piccadilly Hewitts

The first Viscount Lifford’s brother William Jnr spent time in the West Indies.  Papers that survive from then refer to relatives based in London.  A cousin has sent details through of plaques that commemorate some Hewitts in St James Piccadilly.  One is dedicated to John Hewitt by his brother Edward:

of a respectable Family in the County of CUMBERLAND, a near Relation, Friend, and many Years private Secretary to JAMES Viscount Lifford. Lord High Chancellor of IRELAND.  He died 1st March 1783 Aged 46.

This isn’t our John either but is a contemporary.  Also at St James Piccadilly is a plaque to his brother Edward who died in 1794.

The Hewitt papers provide further details of that branch.  Edward left an estate of £18,000 (a huge fortune!) to his nieces, daughters of his brother James.  This James Hewitt was a wine merchant in Carlisle.  From the will we find two daughters and a son Francis.  There were also bequests to various Hewitts still living in Rockcliffe further confirming the family connection.  It’s still not clear if these Hewitts were first or second cousins of the Viscounts Lifford.  And there is no documented connection to our family either.

Conclusion

I’m going to reiterate here that as I currently have no idea where our John Hewitt was born, there is no known connection to any of the Hewitts discussed above.  But we keep looking.  DNA may provide some hints – once I get around to it!

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13 thoughts on “Myths & Legends: Viscounts Lifford

  1. Marie

    There are two Hewitts who died in WW1 commemorated on a plaque in St Bartholomews Church in Winchester – they are grandchildren of the 4th Viscount Lifford.

    1. I don’t believe so. As they’re not my family I haven’t put much further research in except to ascertain that they’re not my family. The family is very well documented so Google may have the answer.

  2. Graham Hewitt

    very interesting article
    I suggest you read some early wills of Hewitt Cumberland
    There is a hand written list of BMD in Rockcliffe Church .
    Appointment needed to see.
    Hewitt Family certainly in Rockcliffe 1500,s
    I have much data but not complete

    Lifford connection with William Hewitt buried Trinity Church Coventry 1747 son of James Hewitt and Mary Urwin

    Earliest copy Family Will I have is Robert Hewitt of Rockcliffe 1567

    1. Hi Graham,
      There certainly is quite a lot out there on the Rockcliffe Hewitt’s! It’s good to know for when I finally break through the brickwall with my John Hewitt!!

      Best wishes,
      Sarah

  3. Graham Hewitt

    Hello
    I have started to put some records into order and going through the wills
    It will take many months yet
    I am really looking at detail some interesting things keep cropping up
    My pile of notes is rising
    I hope to get to Rockcliffe in the near future to look at the handwritten records done by a vicar In Victorian times
    They may get provide more answers
    Regards Graham

    1. Hi Graham,
      I would be interested to hear what you find. My line is still stuck in London, but I’m sure something will turn up some time!!

      Best wishes,
      Sarah

  4. Graham Hewitt

    William Hewitt son of James Hewitt and Mary Urwin
    The records office have lost the entry for this at Carlisle
    I did see it years ago
    I think it was stolen myself ,at that time the originals were lamintated and in a box mixed up
    Many disappeared from the box
    Therefore the only record now is at the church
    On the Victorian transcript
    The Hewitts you mention in the Rockcliffe records are correct
    It is possible they could decend from ,Robert ,James,William,Henry ,Arthur or Oliver
    Why did the names Oliver and Arthur die out ??they both died early 1600,s
    This is a still my research area
    Not resolved

    1. Hi Graham,
      There are certainly a lot of options! But so far, I haven’t managed to find anything on my John Hewitt to get me out of London.

      Best wishes,
      Sarah

  5. Graham Hewitt

    The earliest will I have is for Robert Hewitt of Rockclife 1567
    Burrials of Hewitt,s exceed 180 in number ?
    About 135 are in the church records the rest in wills

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