By Cliff McCarthy, 2019
According to researcher Paul C. Reed, “the surname Ensign/Ensing is extraordinarily rare. It derives from the manor of Ensinge, in the parish of Chilham, co. Kent, a parish situated about five miles southwest of Canterbury. The surname is spelled Ensing(e) (or variants, e.g., Ensyng, Insyng) in almost all English records. The spelling Ensign became common only in America.”
Our ancestor, Thomas Ensing was likely born at Robertsbridge, co. Sussex, in about 1571. On 27 May 1594, he married at nearby Brightling, co. Sussex, Constance Pilcher, daughter of David Pilcher of Battle, co. Sussex. She was buried at Rye on 21 February 1624/5. He was buried at Hove, co. Sussex, on 2 February 1631/32.
The couple settled at Rye — another member of the confederation of the Cinque Ports, about two or three miles northeast of Winchelsea — where Thomas became a leading citizen and was active in local political affairs. The port of Rye, some seventy miles from London supplied its markets with fresh fish, including fish for the royal household. Rye was originally linked to the mainland only by a narrow causeway. But just as Winchelsea, three miles southwest, silted up and lost its prominence in the middle of the sixteenth century, the harbor at Rye was becoming heavily silted as early as 1600, resulting in a loss of much trade and a sharp decrease in the population. An official plea to Parliament dated March 1624 explained that “but of late yeares the harbour is much swarved with sand … by which meanes the towne is impoverished for want of trade and unpeopled, there being a hundred houses uninhabited, there trade and shipping is decayed…[M]any…dayly fly from it by reason of the greate charge the town is at for the maintenance of the jetties, keyes, groins and sea Walles…” It is no wonder, then, that Thomas Ensinge and his children left the port before his death.
The Cinque Ports was an association of coastal towns in Sussex and Kent that was created for maritime transportation purposes, both military and trade. The Brotherhood that controlled the Cinque Ports held meetings in New Romney, co. Kent, and Thomas Ensing travelled there often, sometimes representing Rye in an official capacity. Thomas was a merchant who took a leading part in the affairs of the port of Rye.
The website called, “Olive and Eliza” (oliveandeliza.com) has this to say about Thomas and Constance Ensing:
The Ensigns were likely Puritans (this being supported by not only the fact that two sons eventually went to New England, but also by evidence related to relatives of the couple in Rye records. “Thomas Ensing, gentleman” was among those charged 16 March 1623/4 in an incident where several men, led by cleric Thomas Warren, forcibly kept the appointed curate, James Whitaker, out of the pulpit after Whitaker made derogatory comments about Warren.
Constance Ensing was buried at Rye, 21 February 1624/25. After her death, Thomas relocated to Hove, co. Sussex, where, on 14 December 1631, he made out his will. He was buried on 2 February 1631/32 and his will was proved 27 March 1632. For the will of Thomas Ensing, click here.
Children of Thomas & Constance (Pilcher) ENSING
THOMAS ENSING was likely born at Robertsbridge, co. Sussex, in about 1571. On 27 May 1594, he married at nearby Brightling, co. Sussex, CONSTANCE PILCHER, daughter of David Pilcher of Battle, co. Sussex. She was buried at Rye on 21 February 1624/5. He was buried at Hove, co. Sussex, on 2 February 1631/32. The Children of Thomas & Constance (Pilcher) ENSING are:
i. JOHN ENSING, baptized 8 Jun 1595 in Rye, Sussex, England, married MARGARET POWELL (dau. of William Powell, m. 2) Henry Robrough 13 May 1622 at St. Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey) 12 Oct 1620 at St. Mary Magdalen church, Bermondsey, Surrey, England, died Jan 1620/1, will dated 5 Jan 1620/1 (called himself a “Citizen and ymbroyderer of London”) and proved 16 Jan 1620/1.
ii. MARY ENSING, born about 1597, mentioned in her father’s will, married ROBERT COUCHMAN (who m. 2 Katherine Bottinge (widow of Henry Dorley) 24 Mar 1641/2 in Cranbrook, Kent, England).
iii. THOMAS ENSING, baptized Apr 1599 in Rye, Sussex, England, mentioned in his father’s will, married 1) HANNAH/ANNE WYBOURNE, dau. of John Wibourne) 27 Apr 1629 in Cranbrook, Kent, England and 2) ELIZABETH WILDER (dau. of widow Martha (-) Wilder) 17 Jan 1638, arrived in New England in 1638, settled in Scituate, Plymouth, Massachusetts, a proprietor of Scituate, freeman 5 Mar 1638/9, will dated 16 Jul 1663, inventory taken 17 Feb 1663/4.
iv. EDWARD ENSING, baptized 10 May 1601 in Rye, Sussex, England, not mentioned in brother John’s will (probably had died by then).
v. DAVID ENSING, baptized 3 Jun 1603 in Rye, Sussex, England, mentioned in his father’s will, admitted pensioner Emmanuel College, Cambridge 2 Apr 1622, matriculated 1622, B.A. 1625-26, M.A. 1629, Fellow 1629, rector of Preston, Northamptonshire, England.
vi. JAMES ENSING, mentioned in his father’s will, christened 1 Jun 1606 in Rye, Sussex, England, married SARAH — (d. May 1676, will dated May 1676 and proved 6 Dec 1676, inventory taken 29 May 1676), came to New England in 1634, settled first in Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts, admitted freeman 4 Sep 1634, fenceviewer in Cambridge 4 Apr 1636, moved to Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut probably by 1636 (certainly by 1639), listed as one of the “Brethren in Full Communion” (with Sarah listed as one of the “Sisters in Full Communion”) at the founding of the Second Church in Hartford 12 Feb 1669/70, served on the Connecticut petit jury several times 1655-1661, constable at Hartford 6 March 1661/2, may have briefly resided at Hadley, Hampshire, Massachusetts in about 1666, a cooper, will dated 23 Nov 1670 and proved 2 Mar 1670/1, inventory taken 23 Dec 1670 and exhibited 1 Mar 1670/1.
vii. CONSTANCE ENSING, baptized 13 Nov 1608 in Rye, Sussex, England, mentioned in her father’s will, married EDWARD FOWLE (of Weeks, Hove, Sussex, England, bur. 13 Mar 1639/40 in Hove, Sussex, England, will dated 3 Mar 1639/40 and proved 8 May 1640) 6 Jun 1631 in Glynde, Sussex, England, buried 15 Jun 1632 in Hove, Sussex, England.
- Bowman, Robert E., “Ensigns Revisited,” The American Genealogist, Vol. 73, No. 4, October 1998.
- Hansen, Donald F. and Michael F. Hansen, “DNA Resolves a Wilder Ancestral Mystery,” American Ancestors Magazine, Vol. 11.2, page 46-47.
- “Olive and Eliza” website (oliveandeliza.com), accessed 19 February 2019.
- Reed, Paul C., “The English Ensigns,” The American Genealogist, Vol. 75, No.1, January 2000, continued April 2000 and July 2000.
- Richardson, Douglas, “The Ensign Family of Scituate, MA and Hartford, CT,” The American Genealogist, Volume 56, page 219-220.
- Stratton, Eugene A., “Mann-Ensign Notes,” The American Genealogist, January/April 1985.